An impressive play

2008-05-20 00:00


Winston Churchill Theatre

For Pietermaritzburg to stage the premiere of a brand new, full-scale theatrical musical is a major event. And to create even more of a local buzz, the whole concept is the brainchild of the Sobantu Performing Arts group who involved veteran writer and director John Ledwaba to give a concrete shape to their dreams.

Bringing Shosholoza to the stage has not been all plain sailing — the process began almost a year ago when Ledwaba was asked to write a musical set on the gold mines of Johannesburg and looking at the plight of migrant mineworkers.

Rehearsals began at the Churchill Theatre last October, but there must have been times when those involved despaired of ever seeing opening night. To finance a project of this size is a huge task, and there have been some difficult moments.

But finally, on Thursday, all that was put behind the production as the curtain went up to reveal an effective set, with scaffolding, walkways and sliding panels representing the mine, both above and below ground. Combined with the music and sharply choreographed dance sequences, this gives a convincing sense of the brutal physicality of mining. There is also a six-piece band, often hidden by the action, but beavering away in the background to produce the live music that is vital to this kind of entertainment.

The plot revolves around Jabulani Makhathini (Brian Mazibuko, who is also the choreographer) who leaves rural KwaZulu-Natal to head for the mines, leaving his wife behind. He arrives in Johannesburg as the mines — a male world of robust interaction and thoughtless sexism — introduce women workers. But as the women become an accepted part of life, Jabulani begins to forget about home, and turns his attention to his co-worker, Mavi (Ntombenhle Sindane).

Shosholoza has to fit a lot into its running time. There are issues of sexism, of the danger and appalling conditions endured by miners, of HIV/Aids and of the plight of women left behind in the rural areas where drought and poverty make life almost unendurable. The story is told through song and dance, with some explanation given by a narrator. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, there is plenty of action — a great stick fight in the second act which had the audience shouting for more — and humour. But perhaps some of the set pieces — the sangoma and Evangelical church scenes in particular — would be better with some cutting. They were very reminiscent of some of Mbongeni Ngema’s work, and were overlong.

Inevitably in theatre of this genre, characterisation takes second place to spectacle and message. But one of the strengths of Shosholoza is the performance of Philisiwe Mpofana as the rural wife. Absent for most of the first half of the play, in the second act she heads for Johannesburg to find Jabulani and whenever she is on stage, she brings enormous vulnerability and emotion to the part and gives the whole play a heart.

Overall, Shosholoza is a well-drilled and impressive entertainment. As the run progresses, I would like to see some pruning to make it a more manageable length, but it is home-grown entertainment that the city should certainly support.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.