The very best of SA theatre

2008-06-24 00:00

AT long last KZN audiences have a chance, though just a brief one, to see John Kani’s three-hander which has gathered excellent reviews all around the country over the past four years or so. If you want to see the best of contemporary South African theatre, get to the Playhouse between now and June 29.

Nothing But the Truth comes with a top pedigree. Written by Kani, directed by Janice Honeyman and on a set designed by Sarah Roberts, it showcases some of the country’s leading talents. Kani also takes the role of Sipho Makhaya, with Motshabi Tyele as his daughter Thando and Welile Tembe as his niece Mandisa “Mackay” — she was born and raised in exile in London where Mackay makes her life simpler than Makhaya. Little touches like that make big points.

Mandisa is paying her first visit to the house in New Brighton near Port Elizabeth where her father Temba and her uncle grew up, and where Sipho and Thando now live. She is accompanying her father’s ashes home to be buried with his parents, and her arrival heralds a clash of generations, cultures and exile versus home. It could so easily be grim agitprop, but it is nothing of the kind. It is deliciously funny, moving and thoroughly satisfying theatre.

Sipho is horrified by the arrival of the ashes; he had been expecting a body, and had the undertaker and umfundisi alerted and ready to receive the corpse and treat it with all the correct traditional ceremonial. A plastic jar of ashes presents a problem he doesn’t want to deal with — just as what it represents is something he has buried deep in his soul. There are serious issues here.

Sipho is the central character and Kani is at his considerable best. He can appear angry, he can appear stubborn, but above all he is a performer of huge humanity and self-deprecating humour contained in the smallest gesture or facial expression. The two actresses support him very well — Tembe as the feisty, independent, would-be Brit with attitude and Tyele as the obedient but by no means subservient daughter.

The play makes the point that the clash between those who choose exile and those who choose to stay is, at its heart, related to the differences that occur in all families — between siblings and between generations. And if they are left to fester, the damage they do is enormous. Without equal justice, and recognition, for the hero and for the little man or for the dutiful child and his wayward sibling, there can be justice for nobody. It might sound moralistic but it isn’t, and it is the most enjoyable lesson you are likely to get this week.

Margaret von Klemperer

• Nothing But the Truth is at the Playhouse Drama until June 29. Booking: Computicket or the Playhouse box office at 031 369 9540/369 9596

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