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Sunday, October 8, 2017


(Back: Sandile Mthembu, Ashwin Singh & Rowin Munsamy. Seated: Menzi Mkwane, Ralph Lawson, Michael Gritten & Sivani Chinappan. Photo by Val Adamson)

Strong cast and director do justice to Ashwin Singh’s script. (Review by Caroline Smart)
The Singh Siblings in association with The Playhouse Company presented Ashwin Singh’s drama, To House, in the Playhouse Drama from October 5 to 7, 2017.

This is a new production of To House which was first staged at The Playhouse in 2006 and later at the Catalina Theatre. It forms one of Ashwin Singh’s impressive collection of plays and was included in New South African Plays, published by the UK publications company Aurora Metro Books. In 2013, Aurora Metro Books published Singh’s individual anthology, Durban Dialogues, Indian Voice, in which To House was the headline play.

The play deals with Jason (Michael Gritten) and Sibusiso Khumalo (Menzi Mkwane) who live in the same complex and clash over body corporate issues. There is a barely-concealed hatred between them – Khumalo is on the up-and-up, being a lawyer and university lecturer, while Jason’s life is falling apart, with his retrenchment and impending costly divorce.

They can see across to each other’s apartments and Jason’s fury is aggravated by the fact that Khumalo has bought exactly the same furniture that he has. What’s more, Khumalo has a feisty live-in Indian girlfriend Kajol (Sivani Chinappan) and the pair’s overt sexual activities add fuel to his fire.

Jason is plotting to bring Khumalo down and is trying to persuade the highly camp Sanjay (Rowin Munsamy) to help him. Sanjay and Khumalo are supposed to be writing an academic paper together but Khumalo has more ambitious ideas in mind.

Sanjay has a close friendship with Kajol so things get complicated. Kajol has her own problems, with her brother’s constant lack of concern for their ageing mother.

Then there’s the catalyst, Uncle Deena (Ashwin Singh), who decides to take command of the future of his sister. He also wants Kajol out of her relationship with Khumalo and sets about ruining their friendship.

The only person who is leading an uncomplicated life is Nimrod (Sandile Mthembu) who looks after the grounds of the complex. Mthembu also provides scene links by his cheerful singing. Unfortunately, we only ever saw him at the back through the window or in the park.

Having directed To House the first time around, I found it quite an interesting experience to review it. As the play and its convoluted plot progressed, all the lines and action came flooding back from my memories.

I was highly impressed with Ralph Lawson’s direction. Doing full justice to Singh’s script, he brought out the best in his strong cast. There are fine performances all round with Gritten and Mkwane taking full honours, particularly for their fight scenes.

To House is an edgy, volatile and thought-provoking play and looks at clashes between cultures by those who refuse to tolerate another person’s race or customs. Challenging its cast, To House pulls no punches – except, of course, for the ones that Khumalo levels at Jason in some very impressive fight scenes! All kudos to Gritten for handling the falls so credibly.

Lawson has cleverly designed a set that represents the two lounges – identified by upstage doors with different colours and numbering. The furniture remains exactly the same – as per the storyline - and the change of location is assisted by blackouts and lighting changes. There is a large window set centre stage which lifts to reveal the outdoor scenes in the park.

Unfortunately, being set so far back on the stage it was often difficult to hear some of the dialogue in these scenes.

Some 11 years on, To House reminds us that cultural and racial tolerance and understanding in South Africa still has a long way to go. Apart from this, Singh’s writing also contains much humour which makes the production entertaining without being confrontational. Catch it if it comes your way! – Caroline Smart