Theatre review – Legacy plays on

2010-10-08 14:08

Exiled South African writer Lewis Nkosi died last month, but his work lives on – most immediately in a stage version of his 1986 novel, Mating Birds.

The show, which has been adapted by Mpho Molepo, features another great South African in the leading role, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube.

The actor might be best known as a soapie stalwart from Generations and more recently in Scandal!, but above all he’s an inspired live theatre practitioner.

“Working in the theatre after stints in the movie or TV environment, is like ­preparing a wholesome meal the ­traditional way, after long periods of ­microwave cooking,” says Ka-Ncube. “It’s like a nourishing, home-cooked meal.”

Having won the Standard Bank Young Artist award for theatre back in 2002, he has since done interesting work on stages throughout the country – both treading the boards and directing too.

In fact, while he’s on stage in Durban, the show he has most recently written and directed, Tap Roots, a musical that tracks our musical heritage, is running at Pretoria’s State Theatre until Sunday.

However, for theatre lovers his most memorable role recently was as Mustafa in the spectacular musical, The Lion King.

Mating Birds marks his first production in Durban since 1994’s Raisin in the Sun. He has also taken on iconic roles such as the title role in Othello and has featured in the South African classic Woza Albert as well as in Titus Andronicus.

He once said in an interview that his dream role was to play Othello, but ­having done that he’d “love to do something authentically South African and preferably indigenous”.

He fulfils that dream with this ­production. Mating Birds is set in apartheid-era South Africa and is about a white woman and a black man who meet on the beach and end up having sex. A case of rape is brought against the man and he is sentenced to death.

The play takes the form of flashbacks as the protagonist Ndi Sibiya (Ka-Ncube) tells his story from prison through ­sessions with a clinical psychologist, Dr ­Dufre, played by Durban’s Themi ­Venturas, who most recently featured in The Guitar that Rocked the World.

Nkosi, who left South Africa in 1961 to study at ­Harvard, wrote for Drum in the 1950s as well as producing four novels, two plays and four ­collections of essays.

Mating Birds won the Macmillan Pen Award and like much of his work explores politics and how it affects the private, more intimate aspects of human relationships and dictates sexual behaviour.

The play makes its debut as part of the Playhouse’s New Stages season, which hosts a diverse collection of productions that are innovative and homegrown.

  • Mating Birds is on at The Playhouse Drama Theatre from Thursday to Saturday. Tickets at R60 can be booked through ­Computicket on 083 915800 or the box ­office 0 031 369 9596

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