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Thursday, September 3, 2015


(Lungile Mtshali plays the young mother, Kotso. Pic by Paulo Menezes)

Well-directed tale of tribal war, with spectacular fight scenes and excellent performances. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Menzi Mkhwane’s new play, Secret Valley of Great Kings, is set in the 1400’s in an unidentified area in Africa. It is a tale of war, bloodshed and revenge while carrying a strong message of hope and reconciliation. Impressing with his writing and direction, Mkhwane looks at the issue of civil war in African countries. The mood is set as one enters the theatre where two warriors (Monde Zondi and Kwenza Ngcobo) are standing sentry

The main character is a young mother, Kotso, who begins the play by asking the spirits of her late parents for help and guidance. Her kingdom is constantly at war and the king is manipulative and power-hungry. The elders have all mysteriously disappeared and there are no wise people left to guide the community. A meteorite comes hurtling through the sky (very impressive sound effect here!) and there is much frantic speculation as to its message from the gods.

Kotso goes in search of the oracle, only to discover that her son is of royal blood and destined to be a great leader. The child’s father was the late king which makes him the brother of the current king. This now puts her and her baby’s life at risk as the monarch plots his revenge.

Taking the role of the wild-haired oracle Naomi is Danica Delaray with Cebile Hlatshwayo playing Naledi, Kotso's older sister. Making the most of his manipulating role is Anele Nene with Zama Mngadi and Mzamo Majola playing the kindly couple Kotso turns to for help.

Impressive performances come from Thobane Nzuza as the invincible warrior Eediyas and Mnqobi Msimangu as the joker.

Acting honours undoubtedly go to Lungile Mtshali as Kotso. This is a sustained, highly articulate and riveting performance.

With sparks often flying off the swords, the dramatic fight sequences choreographed by Gabrial Miya and Mkhwane are well-handled with nail-biting authenticity.

This is a hard-working 11-member cast plus one musician as there is very little let-up in the energy required for the hour and a half duration of the play. Strong emotional scenes are also involved. It’s difficult to believe that a number of the actors are still studying at various performing arts institutions. This production shows that there is strong talent on the way up.

Along the way, we are reminded that we are watching a play. Although this diversion – whether impromptu or scripted – was highly amusing, it tended to distract from the plot.

All the music in the show is composed and arranged by Nhlanhla Slayelo Zondi. This provides an added element to the drama of the piece. The use of smoke and dust creates a vivid ambience.

Secret Valley of Great Kings runs in the Playhouse Loft until September 6. Booking is at Computicket. – Caroline Smart