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Sunday, February 19, 2012


(Writer and director Siya Mthembu)

A few days ago, I managed to catch a performance of The Living Dead at Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre (EMAC) in KwaMashu. Despite its somewhat morbid title, this is a very vibrant spiritual piece with a strong social message. There were many young people around me and it was evident from their reactions that they fully understand the play and were in sympathy with its sentiments.

Written and directed by Siya Mthembu, The Living Dead won first place in the 2011 IsiGcawu Drama Festival which is run by a partnership of the Twist Theatre Development Projects and the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP) and hosted at EMAC. It was then selected by the Gauteng Department of Arts, Culture, Sport & Recreation to perform at the Ishashalazi National Festival which forms part of Gauteng’s Heritage Month celebrations.

Now extended to 45 minutes, the play will return to EMAC to appear at the 2012 IsiGcawu Drama Festival.

The curtains open to reveal a group of seated shrouded figures with ropes tied to their hands, indicating their sense of entrapment. The various objects scattered around - a bundle of plastic, a large black rubbish bin, a toilet and a stormwater drain - take on a more critical identity on reading the notices posted around which advertise an abortion clinic.

The story is about Pinky and Senzo (played by Xoliswa Mkhwanazi and Sthembiso Mpungose) who are Grade 10 students at the same school. Sthembiso is something of a player with many girlfriends. However, he gets into a relationship with Pinky and she becomes pregnant. Guilty and feeling trapped, Sthembiso denies fatherhood of the baby and tells Pinky he wants nothing more to do with her. In desperation, she has the baby aborted. As she moves away from the bucket into which she has dumped the foetus, it climbs out to take up its new existence.

We now leave the world of the living behind and move into the domain of the spirits of aborted babies. They exist in a “no man’s land” in a “living death”. This is a novel dramatic approach and Siya Mthembu is using the process of providing each aborted child (foetus) with an identity as part of his anti-abortion message. Each foetus has its own story to tell and there is a strong implication that, because they are so close to the living, they have the capacity to guide and channel those on earth towards a better life.

Xoliswa Mkhwanazi and Sthembiso Mpungose impressed, particularly in the opening moments of the play when she playfully creeps up behind him and hugs him. Their emotions in their sheer joy of contact and later reconciliation displayed a maturity and depth beyond their youthful years.

The rest of the cast includes Sthembile Biyela, Ayanda Khanyile, Smangele Magoso, Lungani Majola, Wonder Makhanya, Khanyisile Masuku, Anele Mkhize, Qinisile Ndluli and Sanele Zulu. However, four of the cast members remain offstage, providing an evocative backdrop of song.

The Living Dead will appear at the 2012 National Arts Festival under the banner of the Nquthu Arts Programme. At the moment, it is still a work in progress but those going to Grahamstown should watch out for it on the Fringe Festival. I believe it will have grown considerably. – Caroline Smart

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