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Friday, January 23, 2009


Two-hander on Musho! explores dynamics between a domestic worker and her “madam”. (Review by Shika Budhoo)

After watching Between Cup and Lip, the two-hander play on the Musho Festival that explores the dynamics in the relationship between a domestic worker and her “madam” I fully felt appreciative of this year’s Musho! Festival line-up. It has been truly impressive when considering that the pieces chosen have been of a high standard, on a variety of subject matter pertaining to the modern audience and in an assortment of styles, talents, techniques and skills. So far it has truly been learning, entertaining, culturally stimulating and inspiring. Much appreciated Musho! 2009 organisers.

For me, Between Cup and Lip, was a very personal experience, as today was the day I had my first experience of my first domestic worker-employer dynamic. However, the twist in the tale is that she, Mavis, is my “other” mother, she’s worked for my mother since I was four and continues to work for her after many residential address changes and much distance to Mavis’s home.

Being single, my mother is a working mother so Mavis was the other female figure who was frequently present through my formative years and is still present. I recently moved and so Mavis has decided to work at my new flat once a week. Today was strange because we had to find a new dynamic and I think we did. My sister in jest aptly stated at the end of the night: “Now you’re the madam!” and - knowing she was joking but knowing what she meant - I realized that an important factor to the character of who I am and how I do certain things have been moulded by Mavis, and being younger than her, I can never be a madam. It is an interesting dynamic that I will cherish.

Apart from other extraordinary things it inspired, Between Cup and Lip made me aware of a relationship that has always been a part of me. This piece of true South African theatre highlighted its presence and importance.

Written by Kemble Elliot and directed by Yvette Hardie, Between Cup and Lip accurately displays the relationship between a domestic worker and employer. It shows the dynamic with truthful subtly and admirable importance. These days there are so many warnings about hiring the “right type” of domestic worker, about the questioned qualities of truthfulness, theft, arrogance and trust, that it is easy to forget that there are many, many honest, hardworking and dependable women who run the households of others and bring up other people’s children, paying whatever available attention is left to their own families and lives.

This production shows the story of a touching relationship between a domestic worker and her employer, without the usual warnings a primary factor. It features Kate (Frances Marek Slabolepszy) as the white 23 year-old newly married employer and Miriam –real name Zanele - (Ntomboxolo Mkhutshi) the black domestic worker.

Both characters go through life’s trials and joys, leaning on each other when it mattered and turning on each other in their moments of needed selfishness, in order to survive with a sense of acceptance of themselves, inside and outside the relationship. Words that I must quote were spoken by Mkhutshi (Miriam/Zanele): “I’ve decided my life is a soap opera. I ran away from home, I don’t know my father, my mother died, I have three different children from three different men, I have a child who is living with his father, one of my children I adopted, my sister is dying of a disease, and the man I am with is cheating on me.”

Mkhutshi portrayed the character of Miriam/Zanele with flair. She had grace when she was motherly, comedic fun when confusion reigned, possessed admirable strength in moments when strength was needed and had complete meltdowns that brought tears to my eyes. Apart from already being emotionally favourable to the piece given my day’s experience, Mkhutshi’s performance was so endearing and giving that skill in true representation was certainly not lacking on this stage. It was spine-tingling at moments.

Frances Marek Slabolepszy successfully portrays the younger woman finding her way in her womanhood. With a great interpretation of the characters, her performance showed all the subtle nuances of a woman loving, feeling, hurting and learning. She has a unique energy which simultaneously shows her comfort on stage. The moment in which it is explained how Miriam/Zanele believes she’ll turn white from the lips if she drinks from Kate’s tea cup, explains the phrase “between cup and lip” - i.e. the many things that can go wrong between the plan and the action. Sterling performances from two talented young ladies!

It’s an absolute pleasure to see a show well-directed, well-acted and technically adept. Of course, the marvel of this show in the direction, acting and technicals was fully enhanced as the team was given a script that can be called a truly South African script which honestly expresses the dynamics of the racial divide. The script is cleverly written, with many moments identified in real life, and many new things learnt about the skill and effort it takes to manage the lives we lead, with and without each other.

There is so much more to say about specific moments in this production, but I’ll just say this: if you are able to see this show anywhere near you in the future - manage your life to make sure you witness something that promises true South African voices, with talented performers and a journey that ensures you leave the theatre with a new thought in mind. – Shika Budhoo