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Sunday, March 27, 2016


(Sipho (Zenzo Msomi) and Andile (Ngcebo Cele) researched the characters they play, through over a year of undercover research with users and dealers in Kwa-Mashu, Umlazi and Durban city centre. Pic by Val Adamson

Ulwembu – a poignant, informative, honest and incisive theatre production about drug addiction, comes to the Playhouse Loft Theatre for a short season from April 5 to 9.

Over the course of 2015, a dynamic team of story-tellers, playwrights, theatre-makers, academics and researchers, set about exploring the Whoonga (low-grade heroin) crises currently plaguing KZN communities.

The result of the two year research/play-making process, this powerful new theatre production is presented by Empatheatre in association with the Playhouse Company and Open Society

The creative team consists of award-winning playwright and director Neil Coppen (Tin Bucket Drum, Abnormal Loads and Animal Farm) top local actress Mpume Mtombeni, Kwa-Mashu based community-theatre group, The Big Brotherhood and educational sociologist Dylan McGarry.

Ulwembu (isiZulu for Spider web), which has been described as ‘poignant’ and “essential” viewing, affords local theatre audiences the opportunity to walk in the shoes of misunderstood others: be it users, dealers, police-officers, social-workers or parents of drug users.

“With Whoonga having a catastrophic effect on communities around South Africa,” says Mthombeni, “the problem needs to be understood and addressed out in the open.”

Ulwembu, the creative team believe, provides the crucial place for transformative dialogue to take place, engaging the empathy, intellects and imaginations of audiences by allowing them to follow a series of characters realities without judgment or prejudice.

To create the script, the group set out to record oral histories and testimonials from a broad cross- section of Durbanites before transforming these accounts into an unforgettable documentary-theatre experience which is designed to change the way we see and understand each other as citizens.

“If we want to respond to drugs humanely and comprehensively in Durban” explains McGarry, “we need to first understand the interwoven and deeply connected nature of this problem. Our production strives to give this contentious issue, a more human face and perspective.”

Despite the serious themes, the creative team are quick to point out that Ulwembu is far from a precautionary “Say no to drugs” play. 

“With this production” urges Coppen, “we wanted to create an engrossing and visceral theatrical journey for audiences, allowing the power of the story and the characters escalating dilemmas, to reveal the many complexities and facets behind the crises.”

The cast includes Mpume Mthombeni, Vumani Khumalo, Phumlani Ngubane, Ngcebo Cele, Sandile Nxumalo and Zenzo Msomi. Direction is by Neil Coppen, Design by Dylan McGarry and lighting by Tina Le Roux.

The Ulwembu team would like to extend the invite to police officers, social workers, public health practitioners, families affected by drug use, schools, and other concerned members of the public to come watch the play. After every performance, the cast and creative team participate in a post-show exchange with the audience.

Show times scheduled in the Playhouse Loft are as follows: April 5 and 6 at 09h00 and 12h00; April 7 at 19h00, April 8 at 12h00 and 19h00 and April 9 at 19h00.

Booking is through Computicket and tickets are R50 for public performances. Community groups and local organizations can contact Dylan McGarry at for free admission. For more information visit the Ulwembu website at

Ulwembu has been made possible through the generous support of the Urban Futures Centre, Twist Theatre Development Project (Twist Durban), Think Theatre and the generous constant support of the Denis Hurley Centre.

This project is primarily funded by the Open Society Foundations, as well as Twist Theatre Development Project, and the Urban Futures Centre