national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, May 20, 2011


(Pic by Val Adamson: Phumelela Khawula, Thami Silindana and Bonginkosi Myeza with Khetha Mbatha and Lindani Mthethwa)

Humorous and energetic piece dealing with cultural conflict resolution process. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Directed by Mbheki Mabhida, the Julazza Theatre Arts Company’s Sisenga Ilala is one of three productions forming part of The Playhouse Company’s second Community Arts Festival where a group of talented actors and their directors and scriptwriters have been mentored by experienced theatre practitioners. Currently running in the Playhouse Loft Theatre until tomorrow, the festival features three productions - the other two being Just Don’t and Rice - and each work focuses on important social issues.

The festival is geared to offer a platform for artists and arts practitioners to stage their performance works in a professional environment.

I have to admit to a vested interest at the outset as I was contracted to train the casts in voice production. It has been a highly rewarding process as the actors are eager to learn and responded well to exploring the capacity of their voices. The other mentors were Edmund Mhlongo (director of the festival), Faca Kulu, Linda Gcwensa, Musa Hlatshwayo, Zinhle Gumede, Ashwin Singh and Dr Christopher John who brought their valuable skills to the project in terms of acting, dance, music and scriptwriting.

I highly commend the Playhouse Company for this project. Impressive progress has been made from the day when the three productions were first presented to the mentors. The actors have grown in voice and movement skills and the productions benefited from improved scripting and the extension of ideas.

The basic plot of Sisenga Ilala is that two arch rivals, Mfeka and Hlatshwayo, are brought before a tribal court because of their continued conflict. Their latest argument over the shooting by Mfeka’s son of three guinea fowl which Hlatshwayo lays claim to, has finally exasperated the chief and he brings them before him.

The trial moves energetically through a number of issues including the argument of the use of English, citing the difference between a translator and an interpreter and giving a disastrous example of a mis-translation. It also deals with rhino poaching and a further argument as to whether guinea fowl are “wild” birds or tamed if someone feeds them for three years!

With a seascape backdrop and two huts and various rocks, the setting is a small village of the Amambo Tribe under the rule of chief Colongo. Some of the dialogue touches on the fact that the Amambo tribe should be considered the rightful rulers of Durban.

As the chief, Thami Silindana is suitably commanding and ponderous while his advisor is a sprightly Phumelela Khawula whose shorts are held up with sisal rope and he wears a tie bearing cartoon characters. Mfeka and Hlatshwayo are played by Khetha Mbatha and Lindani Mthethwa who effectively – and often ferociously - handle their arguments and eventual reconciliation.

Bonginkosi Myeza carries the acting honours and is a delight as the crotchety induna, pulling rank wherever appropriate and being highly critical of the chief’s advisor.

Sisenga Ilala is a traditional cultural conflict resolution process whereby two protagonists each confess their deeds and speak about the emotions that drove the offending actions while pulling (“sisenga” literally means “milking”) on a reed (“ilala”). Their initial interaction is invariably aggressive but before long the mood changes and they end up smiling and shaking hands. Perhaps more protagonists of this world should observe this custom!

There is much humour and the audience respond with delight. My isiZulu is not good enough to appreciate the full benefit of this piece which is conducted in both isiZulu and English but I understand enough to salute this cast for their commitment and progress.

There are two performances of Sisenga Ilala tomorrow (May 21) at 12h00 and 15h00. Entrance is free. – Caroline Smart