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LOST IN THE STARS (article first published : 2006-10-3)

Within a year of the publication in 1948 of Alan Paton’s novel Cry the Beloved Country, the film rights had been snatched up by Alexander Korda. Shortly after that, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson had written a musical based on the book, calling it Lost in the Stars.

In September 1999, almost seven years ago to the day, Technikon Natal (now Durban University of Technology) first presented Lost in the Stars in the Courtyard Theatre. Having failed to secure the rights for Evita this year, the current head of drama at DUT, Debbie Lutge, decided to re-stage this production in its place. As director of the show, she has faithfully recreated the passion and pathos of Kurt Weil and Maxwell Anderson’s musical.

The story is set in 1949. The stage setting of this production is minimal with only rostra and stairs to provide different configurations such as courtrooms, prisons, railway stations and the like. The cast appears, rising as if from out of the earth – or from behind the hill - and sing the opening words of Alan Paton’s time-honoured and achingly beautiful description of the dusty road that winds itself up into the Ixopo hills.

Cry the Beloved Country is the poignant and passionate tale of Reverend Stephen Kumalo whose faith in the truth and in his God is severely shaken by the actions of his son Absalom who is condemned to death for murder. It is only when he sees the impact of these deeds on a white die-hard colonialist, the father of the young man his son has killed, does he realise that some good may have come out of this sorrowful saga.

Debbie Lutge has deployed her 100-strong cast well. This department is well-known for its good ensemble work where most of the students get a chance to show their talents. However, this time there were several places where crowd action pulled too much focus and important dialogue and scenes were lost or seriously affected in the process. I am happy to announce – my usual hobbyhorse! – that diction was generally of a high standard.

Stealing the show with passionate and mature performances are Sifiso Mathenjwa as Stephen Kumalo and Nolwazi G Shange as Irina. I commend Nolwazi for her consistent focus and professionalism in coping with audience response to something they found amusing in the ensemble movement around her. As Absalom, Bandile Mkhize’s emotional closing scene was most impressive. Special mention must be made of Aphiwe Diko as Stephen’s gangster brother John and Sandiso Mfeka as John’s scowling belligerent son Matthew. Good to see department lecturer Allen Auld playing James Jarvis, proving to the city that the acting training he received here at university has stood him in good stead.

Other good performances came from Nobuhle Khanyile (Grace Kumalo), Thobeko Bhengu (Alex), Crystal Hodnett (the Judge); Jessica Jayde Jamison (Burton), Cebile Buhle Mlaba (Linda) and Andile Mdletshe (Hlabeni).

The show includes beautiful numbers but they are not easy to perform and musical director Dana Hadjiev has pulled the best from the cast. Choreographer Mdu Mtshali has kept the action going but I felt that the tango piece accompanying Irina’s song was too contemporary and proved distracting. Tina le Roux’s lighting is effective and Dean Mellor’s set is sturdy and movable. Considering this was opening night, the cast manipulated the set sections well and fairly unobtrusively.

Lost in the Stars runs in the Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, from October 2 to 7 at 19h00. Tickets R30 (R15 students and pensioners). Further information from the drama department on 031 204 2194. – Caroline Smart




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