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Friday, June 6, 2014


Tour de force performance of 11 characters in riveting one-man drama. (Review by Caroline Smart)

This evening, the audience at Catalina Theatre was treated to a tour de force performance by Menzi Mkhwane in his  riveting one-man play, Last Cow Standing, directed by Lihle Dhlomo.

Resonating on a number of levels it shows how one small boy’s determination and belief in what is right and good can make a difference.

Set in a rural kingdom, the situation is a devastating one. Cattle are dying from a strange sickness and now the elders and exalted henchmen, acting under their own agenda, have persuaded the king that the god Gwande has struck them with a curse. Their suggestion is that everyone in possession of cattle must hand over all their beasts to be kept in the royal kraal in preparation for a big sacrifice which they believe will bring the entire herd back.

We first meet the young Samira as he is burying one of his grandmother’s precious animals in the centre of the kraal. While studiously trying to remember the exact wise words of his grandmother (this was a delight), he questions the sense of this decree, arguing that people will not be able to plough the land, milk and feed themselves. Taking his grandmother’s advice, he heads off with a precious calf to speak to the King and convince him to alter his decree.

Along his journey he meets up with a volatile Indian trader, an effete Watchman, a disabled elder, a grunting farmer, and the traitorous Phazoka (a hilarious sequence), not to mention his ageing granny, some giggling women and the bearded king.

Taking on no less than 11 roles, Mkhwane imbues each one with impeccable vocal distinction and body language. He moves seamlessly, almost without breathing, from one character to the other –often in conversation and in one case there were three characters talking. There were also moments of endearing poignancy.

Growing from a naiive young boy to a strong adult, he impresses throughout. I’d also like to commend him on assessing the volume of the rain on the roof and adjusting his vocal projection accordingly. His professionalism and strong capacity for mime is understandable. After all, he learnt his craft as a young child from watching his father, well-known actor Bheki Mkhwane, who worked with the acclaimed Ellis Pearson for many years.

My main concern is the shadow play. While puppeteers Mpilo Khumalo and Nhlakanipho Gamede provide effective moments, the process is not achieving its full potential. Some kind of coverage needs to be placed on either side of the screen to keep the magic alive and avoid the audience seeing them as they move into the wings.

Produced by Nu-Breed, Last Cow Standing runs at Catalina Theatre until June 15 with performances at 15h00 and 19h00. Booking is at Computicket. For more information visit I urge you not to miss it - this is a great talent to watch. – Caroline Smart

NB: Catch Menzi Mkhwane at the National Arts Festival in two productions, one of them being “Pockets of Knowledge” which is directed by his father, Bheki Mkhwane