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PEACE IN OUR LIFETIME (article first published : 2007-02-3)

Founded by its artistic director Jerry Pooe in 1993, Eager Artists is a well-known Durban theatre company which has presented productions outside of KwaZulu-Natal and toured to the United States. Among the company’s most highly acclaimed works was Peace in The Valley which was first seen in February 2000 after being staged at PACOFS, BAT Centre and Technikon Natal (now the Durban University of Technology). Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it tells of young love in a township torn apart by gangster violence.

Written and directed by Jerry Pooe, this production also enjoyed a successful tour to western New York and Canada in June 2000, after having been first mounted on a professional stage in the Playhouse Drama four months earlier. It was to this same venue that I returned last night to see the opening of the reworked version of Peace in The Valley, now titled Peace in our Lifetime because of its wider focus on issues in a democratic society and peace on the African continent as a whole.

Six and a half years on, the production retains its energy and poignant storyline – except that in this version of Romeo and Juliet, the couple stays alive at the end as a symbol of hope for peaceful co-existence in the future. I have always been impressed with the discipline of the Eager Artists and this production was no exception, with the actors and dancers clearly having benefited from Thulebona Mzizi’s crisp choreography and input. The fight stand-offs were particularly impressive – there’s something about the click of tap shoes that can conjure up a disturbingly ominous atmosphere. Peace in our Lifetime also benefited from the valuable skills of such theatre personalities as Mbongeni Ngema, Aubrey Sikhabi and Zinzi Mbuli.

Two young lovers, Sputla and Maria come from different areas of KwaMashu, a section torn apart by political violence. They despairingly declare their feelings for each other and watch their love become battered and eventually crushed in conditions of conflict, revenge and gang warfare. Musawenkosi Shabalala in the part of the Romeo figure (alternating with his twin brother Bongumusa, which must have made rehearsals interesting!) and S’phindile Myeni (alternating with S’thandwa Nzuza) gave consistently believable and endearing performances.

In the role of Jabu (the Tybalt figure), Xolani Simelani created a disturbing figure while Xolani Henema was equally good in the suave easygoing Mercutio role. Maye Mbhele and Slindile Ndlovu impressed as Maria’s parents and Bonga Dlamini was an imposing Priest. However, audience favourites were undoubtedly S’dumo Mtshali and Junior Ngidi as the old men who observe the violent natures of the youngsters and try to do their level best to defuse the situation.

Over the years, I have watched closely and with interest the development of Eager Artists and DUT drama students. In this production, I was particularly impressed by Xolani Henema, Xolani Simelane as the impulsive Bra Tony (Tybalt) as well as Stella Zungu who shines either as the sangoma or a feisty dancer.

Brian Thusi’s great re-worked score to Jerry Pooe’s lyrics reflected more of the jazz style for which he is so famous - hopefully a CD of the show is on the cards? I particularly enjoyed the numbers where the lovers get to dance together. There are wonderful touches of humour, like the aged VW Beetle that stutters onto stage only to zoom off with a screech of tyres once out of sight.

Peace in our Lifetime runs in the Playhouse Drama from February 1 to 7 at 19h30 (14h30 on Sunday). Tickets R40 (R20 students and children) booked through Computicket or Playhouse Box Office. Valuable funding support has been received from the KZN Office of the Premier. – Caroline Smart




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