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Thursday, October 8, 2009


(back: Mandla Manzi, Thabani Mhlangu, Faca Kulu/middle: Sifiso Mngadi and Bonga Zulu/front: Siyabona Zuma)

Nifty footwork, stellar acapella singing and convincing performances in a well written musical comedy as part of the Playhouse Company's New Stages Festival. (Review by Maurice Kort)

First seen at the Catalina Theatre in October last year, Native Blues has been taken up as part of the Playhouse Company's New Stages Festival in the Drama Theatre where it can be given the very much fuller and more lavish treatment that it deserves. It also has a much improved set design using many of the facilities available in this venue and a more developed script. The basic set lends much credence to the period and the lighting effects are incorporated well into the play.

Native Blues is an acappella musical comedy about Durban's legendary Umkhumbane dating back to the 1950s as reminisced by two doddering, argumentative old fogies from that era. They are the only survivors of the group of energetic lively young men who decided to get together and make their "fortune" by taking advantage of the fashion of the times of perfecting their acappella singing to attract the attention of beautiful women and entertain the masses and then pass the hat around.

The two old men, Manzini (Faca Kulu) and Manyoni (Siyabongo Zuma), riddled with gout and old men's ailments; shown graphically in their stilted movements, argue incessantly over who started the group and over who was the leader, in addition to how Manyoni won the love of his wife, Lizzie, of 44 years.

How the group of young men met and planned the acappella group, and indeed how they hit on the name Native Blues for the group, are shown in flashbacks throughout the two-act play interspersed with the amazing singing of the very talented actors. A show stopper was There’s Nothing Wrong With Loving Your Woman and the opening number in the costumes that the acappella group adopted. Manzini and Manyoni change instantly to the active young men and are joined by Sguqa (Thabani Mhlangu), Nsimbi (Sifiso Mngadi), Soccer (Mandla Manzi) and Mathambo (Bonga Zulu) who together formed the singing group.

These are new faces who are set to go far and hopefully they will be seen in many more productions. Not only are they in very fine voice but they move beautifully to the great delight of the very small opening night audience and are most convincing in their portrayal of the various characters. Each is an individual with his own quirks and mannerisms and none tries to upstage anyone else, they form a neat ensemble. All are very natural and lend great credence to their roles and the period - which was not the best, being at the start of the dark days of the apartheid era with many vibrant young men having to go to the mines, such as Mathambo, to support their families.

The happy and playful times shared, the sad moments and the many arguments and opinions experienced by the energetic young men are sincerely portrayed, a great credit to Faca Kulu, the director, who also wrote Native Blues, no doubt drawing very much on his own early background. I was fascinated by the colours of the T-shirts worn by the cast being the colours of the South African flag, except that white was duplicated and there was no blue – but perhaps that concept was only in my mind and not intended.

Sadly the run of Native Blues is only four days, not long enough for the usual Durban theatre malaise to wake up and for word of mouth to spread - as that is what Durban audiences react to best. The play is written in English and Zulu and has very funny lines, not all understood by me but the intonation, mannerisms and moves are so expressive one follows the play perfectly. It deserves to be taken up and given wide exposure.

Native Blues short season at the Playhouse Drama runs from October 7 to 10 at 19h30 with additional performances at 11h00 on October 7 for schools and 14h00 on October 9 and 10. At R45 a ticket, this is a steal, where can one obtain an evening's stellar entertainment at that price? Booking is through Computicket. – Maurice Kort