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Saturday, December 2, 2017


(Mpume Mthombeni)

An astounding and quite unforgettable theatre production that works on all levels. (Review by Keith Millar)

The Last Country is an astounding and quite unforgettable theatre production that works on all levels. Presented in the form of animated story telling, it highlights the experiences of four migrant women who have been forced, by difficult circumstances, to make their homes, and eke out a living, in the city of Durban.

It is crafted by master theatre practitioner, Neil Coppen, from 30 oral histories collected as part of a larger research and advocacy project titled Migration and the Inclusive City. Partners in this initiative are the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology, the Democracy Development Program, and the African Solidarity Network.

The result is production that is powerful, dramatic, emotional, deeply personal and more than a little harrowing.

All four actresses delivered virtuoso performances. They were led by a very impressive Mpume Mthombeni who created a very real and lovable character as the elderly woman who had moved to Durban from Mthwalume on the South Coast. She portrays a strong and determined woman who will not compromise on her principles and somehow remains cheerful despite all her tribulations. She also collaborated with Coppen in the creation of the work.

Philisiwe Twijnstra, Nompilo Maphumulo and Zintle Bobi, telling the stories respectively of women who hail from the DRC, Somalia and Zimbabwe, also bring their characters to life. They tell of the violence and economic troubles they experienced and which forced them to leave their homelands to seek a better life in South Africa.

They also tell of the problems they experience in South Africa, from neglect at the hospitals, xenophobia and, most of all, dealing with the Department of Home Affairs.

All four artists put in stellar performances of great depth and emotion.

Lighting, with four spots which picked out the actors in an otherwise dark theatre and a haunting soundtrack also added to the drama of the production.

Coppen sees the theatrical collaboration with the Urban Futures Centre an extension of the Invisible Lives series of plays, which began with ULWEMBU, which formed similar pro-active partnerships with academic institutions, faith-bodies like the Denis Hurley Centre (DHC), police, civil society, city-officials etc.

He states that with this sort of documentary/research based project, the theatre is employed as powerful story-telling tool and an instrument of empathy.

As theatre that informs, educates and gives audience food for thought, The Last Country is certainly most successful. One hopes that this production goes from strength to strength and spreads this important message far and wide. – Keith Millar