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Saturday, September 29, 2012


Review of the production at the 2012 Witness Hilton Art Festival by Keith Millar

These days it seems as if every time one reads a newspaper there is yet another report of a gruesome slaying one of the worlds diminishing population of Rhino.

It is this that makes Nicholas Ellenbogen’s timeless masterpiece, Horn of Sorrow, even more relevant today than it was when it was first produced 25 years ago.

Created by Ellenbogen and a group of very talented and vibrant actors in a workshopped environment, Horn of Sorrow is an iconic piece of physical theatre that highlights the plight of the rhino and the scourge of poaching. It tells the story of a young black rhino, Tembalethu, who is born and grows up in a game reserve were she has to deal with a variety of dangers that lie in wait in the African bushveld.

When Skuwit, a smooth-talking young man from the local village returns from a stint in Johannesburg and is intent on making make some easy money from trading in rhino horn, their paths are destined to cross.

The production seen at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival was directed by Brendan Grealy who was part of the first cast of Horn of Sorrow. He led a talented young group of actors who paid homage to the original with the excellence of their performance. Filled with energy and enthusiasm, their depictions of everything from a variety of animals to a motor car and a helicopter were utterly charming and convincing.

Even the soundtrack was provided by the cast who, through vocalisations and a few rattles and whistles, were able to create a palpable sense of Africa. You could almost feel the heat, smell the dust, hear sounds of the bush.

Of particular note is the performance of Menzi Mkhwane as the comical vulture who narrates much of the story. His performance is simply superb. He is definitely one to take note of for the future.

Incidentally, Menzi is the son of well-known Durban Bheki Mkhwane who was one of Nicholas Ellenbogen’s collaborators in the creation of Horn of Sorrow. Others in the excellent cast were Wiseman Mncube, Michael Gritten, Thandeka Mdlalose, Mpho Nzimande and Thamisanqa Zondi.

The production has a chilling ending as an actor stands alone under a flood light and recites the current world wide status of the rhino: Javan Rhino (Fewer than 50 left, possibly extinct); Sumatran Rhino (Fewer than 200 left); Greater One Horned Rhino (About 2,913 left); Western African Black Rhino (Extinct); White Rhino (About 20,000 left), and Black Rhino (About 4838 left). – Keith Millar