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Sunday, October 20, 2019


A powerful and necessary production. (Review by Sibongiseni Shezi & Sinesipho Makaula)

Nongogo, by world renowned playwright Athol Fugard, is an intriguing story of a woman in search of her dreams and herself. Set in a Shebeen in contemporary South Africa. Nongogo/Queeny is a powerful woman who must struggle to succeed in the face of the structural violence of the township.

Directed by the remarkable Philisiwe Twijnstra (Durban playwright, actress and director), the play provides a chilling mirror of our reality as South Africans and assesses the ongoing question of existence and the necessity to heal and love through it all.

Watching the show was truly a thrilling and enjoyable experience. A women’s perspective breathing life into this play makes for the powerful energy that is on that stage. There is an unapologetic sense of delivery from the entire cast - particularly from the only female character among males, Queeny - that serves to truly drive home the extent and depth of the trauma and experiences of the characters. Choices are motivated and validated at the end which is a delight to see.

In this rendition of the play, there is a deliberate choice to add more actors than it originally specifies. This choice is a highlight as it definitely accentuates the invasive and pungent presence of man in a woman’s consistent attempt to survive in a male-dominated society. Often giving generic responses as entitled black South African men, there are moments their presence feels overwhelming and unnecessary, mirroring not only a reality, but the effects of psychological trauma that Queeny has faced.

The set, beautifully designed by Sir Roel Twijnstra, is also interesting as it is not definitively compartmentalised, but rather there are demarcations on the floor that situates the actors which gives a sense of a lack of barriers or “boundaries” as often actors walk in and out of them during scenes. On the one hand, it may get confusing, looking at it purely from a technical standpoint, however on the other hand, it shows how one is never truly secure in this society – at least within this world of narrative.

With such a powerful story, there are some truly stand-out performances. The character Blackie played by Ayanda Mhlaba is a refreshing surprise (a personal favourite). He brilliantly plays an underdog that grows to be the most lovable character on the stage. The consistency of his characterisation (body language and speech) is incredibly admirable.

Another stand-out is Sam played by Siphamandla Khanye who gives a strong and convincing performance. His energy constantly aiming to match his surroundings, he does not drop the ball.

A stellar performance by Thembelihle Ngubo with an unmatched stage presence necessary to pull off a character like Queeny. There is something beautiful about how she brings her to life; unapologetically fierce and tough yet displaying a softer feminine side yearning for love and an escape at times.

What is truly commendable about this play is that, even with the heavily patriarchal presence on the stage, it still manages to empower the woman by giving her the agency to tell her story and live her truth in spite of a man. This is incredibly necessary at a time when a woman’s voice continues to be silenced. We can never have enough strong female characters on our stages.

Nongogo was produced by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Drama and Performance Studies Department and ran from October 3 to 6, 2019, at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. - Sibongiseni Shezi & Sinesipho Makaula