The personal in the political

2012-07-20 11:30

Omphile Molusi drags his big, metal trunk on to a stage strewn with the flotsam and jetsam of urban living – discarded newspaper, cooldrink cans and orange peels.

He puts his trunk in the middle of the space, takes off his jacket and looks at it. He stares at it, turns it over, lays it down.

He says, sounding confused, that he has to attend a funeral. With that, Molusi grabs the audience’s attention and never lets it go.

His heartfelt, honest, funny and tragic story of a place forgotten, and the ignored people in it, is riveting.

His effect on the audience is as much to do with the content of his tale as it has to do with his own extraordinary acting, and his persuasive way with space and timing.

When I was in Ireland last year, I saw that Itsoseng was invited to the Dublin Theatre Festival, and prior to that it had won a Fringe First Award in Edinburgh.

After seeing it as part of the National Arts Festival’s inaugural Season of Solo Theatre, it was immediately clear why a play so particularly located in a South African context resonated so loudly with any audience no matter how foreign.

Itsoseng is about being heard; it is the distillation of that overused phrase: “The voice of the voiceless.” Molusi is, in fact, one of the voiceless who, having found himself ignored, found a new way to speak up and be heard.

Better than that, he gives voice to his community of characters too.

Molusi effortlessly slips from one character to another as he tells the story of the township where he grew up.

He recounts how the shiny shopping centre with its array of shops built during apartheid was burned down in the run-up to democracy.

He describes his long-time love affair with Dolly and how they were kept apart.

He channels the persona of the local firebrand and orator who swept everyone up in a fever of joy and anger during the advent of democracy.

He explains how crime crept into the community, how the shebeen and the mortuary became the only two businesses making a profit, and how joblessness and hopelessness eroded everyone’s chances at a better life.

This is not a political play. It might sound like one and the universe in which the story is told is political, but it is a simple love story that ends in tragedy.

It is about a boy who loves a girl, but who finds that love is never enough – especially when you are poor, without prospects and living in a place that has been forgotten.

Itsoseng will make you laugh out loud. It will make you gasp and, by the end, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

This play should travel the country – not only the world – and it should start with a gala performance at Parliament.

The next time someone talks about service delivery failure and the protests that flow from it, I will see the characters of Molusi’s forgotten community. This is the power of performance.

»Itsoseng ends its run as part of Drama for Life today at the Wits Theatre. The play will be on as part of the Arts Alive Festival, which launches on September 1.

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