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Saturday, August 22, 2015


(Thembi Mtshali-Jones)

A powerful, heartrending but ultimately triumphant play. (Review by Keith Millar)

The South African Woman’s Arts Festival, which is presented by the Playhouse Company in Durban annually, can be relied on to offer robust, gutsy productions which highlight the struggles and hardships,and occasional triumphs, women experience in this world.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ one-woman biographical play, A Woman in Waiting, is no exception. The programme promised a tour de force performance, and that is what we got – by the bucketful.

Mtshali-Jones is a hugely talented performer and has a vast amount of experience in all areas of the performing arts. All her accumulated ability is on display during this production as she relates her story through intense narrative and powerful song. She is utterly in control of every nuance of her performance and the result is profoundly moving.

A Woman in Waiting tells of the many iniquities suffered by black woman in domestic service during the apartheid era in this country. A situation which I fear may still be rife to this day.

Mtshali-Jones enjoyed a happy carefree childhood in rural Zululand. The only problem was that she saw her mother, who was maid for a white family in Durban, just once a year at Christmas. When she finally moved to the city to attend high school she had to live in the crowded, dusty township of Kwa Mashu with seven other children.

She hero-worshipped her mother but was soon to realize the regular humiliations this proud woman had to endure as a servant to earn a paltry living.

Mtshali-Jones tells of her own years as a domestic worker when she had to leave her own baby at home while she looked after the young of others. She relates the fear of the late night raids by the Black Jacks and the agony of the mothers as their children faced up to the Army Caspers during the student uprising.

Her eventual transformation into a performer and singer who has appeared on international stages is a testament to the strength and capacity of the human spirit to survive.

A Woman In Waiting is in a sense Mtshali-Jones’ own personal Truth and Reconciliation commission and advocates that the women who have suffered need to “speak out or their hearts will burst.”

The production was written by Yaël Faber and Thembi Mtshali-Jones. It is beautifully scripted and almost poetic in its use of the English language. Faber also directed the production and is also responsible for the clever props and set design. The assistant director is Gina Shmukler, Company Manager is Leigh Colombick and to complete the all-woman team production management and lighting design is by Gerda Kruger.

A Woman in Waiting is a powerful, heart rending, but ultimately triumphant, play. There was a very special moment after the production when Mtshali-Jones brought her aged mother onto the stage for a standing ovation. – Keith Millar

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