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Sunday, March 11, 2012


(A dramatic moment from “The Seed”)

Philisiwe Sithole reviews the opening of the Phambili Theatre Festival.

On March 9, Phambili Youth Theatre launched its second annual festival offering a range of shows from Twist Projects as well as from other community projects, namely Wushwini Arts and Culture Heritage Centre.

I attended the launch which was followed by the first show of the festival. This was The Seed, performed by the Umsindo Theatre Group from Umlazi directed by Bongumusa Shabalala, Xolani Dlongolo and Musawenkosi Shabalala and written by Amy Jephta.

The Seed is about a father who leaves his family to work in the city. He comes back with a strange fruit which his wife plants so that the family can feed from the tree, hence the title of the play. The production deals with migrant labour and HIV and AIDS yet the words HIV and AIDS are not used in the play. This makes an allegorical and symbolical shift of focus.

The story begins with the powerful image of a woman (Snelisiwe Radebe) running breathlessly centre stage. Behind her is a backdrop of a white cloth. Two youngsters (Nolwazi Shabalala and Simphiwe Dana) stand by, watching.

To the side, a man (Skhumbuzo Mangazi) in a suit is ready to go and work in the city. We see a gardener planting the seed, the same seed that will destroy the family. More colour is introduced significantly through the costumes: mainly red, black, white suggesting blood, death and innocence. These are worn by four actors representing narrators who help to enhance and prolong the story. Most of the dialogue was underscored by beautiful carthatic humming voices led by Sizwe Nzimande which allowed the audience to sympathise and linger in the story.

Snelisiwe Radebe delivered an interesting character. It was also good to see the fantastical side of the narrators portraying unnatural characters. This piece integrated realism and symbolism which aided the deliverance of the story. The use of movement helped to elaborate the pain the woman goes through that leads her to her death.

I believe that The Seed would have been better performed in the actors’ home language of isiZulu. The use of English limited them with unclear articulation and inhibited their freedom of acting. Otherwise, it was a joy to watch this show.

The festival continues with its final day today (March 11). Tickets R20 pp per show. See separate article or more information. – Philisiwe Sithole