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Friday, December 18, 2020


(Mathew Hoffman & Menzi Mkhwane. Pic by SG Shozi)

Mkhwane plays every single character, sometimes in conversation with each other. “Jesu” is a perfect showcase for all his talents. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Jesu is a nativity musical production created by award-winning actor Menzi Mkhwane with pianist Mathew Hoffman, who has scored, arranged and plays the music, and actress Noluthando Ngcobo. They are joined by Sboniso Ncwane

While it stays true to the bible story of the birth of Jesus Christ, Mkhwane has researched bible scripture and historical facts to create a wider idea of the events of this miracle birth when the Virgin Mary was chosen by God to bear the Baby Jesus.

To start with, we see a birth – not of Jesus, but of Mary. Her mother is singing a lullaby for baby Mary, praying that she will mature into a strong and loyal woman and respect the Lord. We go on to meet Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who is encouraging her cousin to develop a relationship with carpenter, Joseph. Then a visit from the Angel Gabriel informs Mary that she has been chosen to give birth to the baby Jesus.

Mkhwane plays every single character, sometimes in conversation with each other. The venue is not that great acoustically for drama but his strong capacity of articulation and projection means that you can hear every word he says. He acknowledges that the challenge was how to represent different characters without over- or under-writing them. “I needed to find a way to put the show through a process where the characters would develop when they meet someone,” he explains. “Bring in dramatic tension. Make the citizens of Jerusalem a real community. Re-inventing the story but staying true to the text.”

Thus we have reactions from people in the community, neighbours clattering pots to warn everyone that Roman soldiers are on their way to collect taxes, a haughty soldier on a puffing horse, and an old man talking to Joseph and Mary about who their son will become. One of Mkhwane’s strongest characters is that of the all-powerful King Herod who rules that people have to go to their homes for the forthcoming headcount which means that Joseph and Mary have to head for Bethlehem. The next devastating ruling is that, now he has heard that a new king has been born, he kills every infant.

However, my favourite was a frail old woman who read to Mary and Joseph the important message from the Book of Isaiah. Just to mention that, in addition to all of the above, Mkwane produces all the baby noises!

The closing image is inspiring – a tower of white chairs, with the tiny baby placed in a framework and illuminated by LED lights.

While this is pretty much a one-man show, Mkhwane has excellent support from Ngcobo who delivers the beautiful song Usivuselele (Dear Lord, uplift our spirits) and Hoffman at the keyboard who sings a number of well-known Christmas carols. Sitting quietly centre stage most of the time is drummer Ncwane who comes into his own with an explosive drum sequence when the action gets hectic.

At every performance, there is a guest artist and last night, this was poet Radwinn van Wyk who presented himself as one of the Three Wise Men (The Magi) describing what God means to him as an artist.

Jesu is a story of hope and courage that is set to bring back the faith of many believers during this trying time when the Corona virus has led us closer to our faith and away from our knowledge,” explains Mkhwane.

Jesu, which is a perfect showcase for all Mkhwane’s talents, will have one more performance at the Durban Music Centre tonight (December 18, 2020) at 19h00. Tickets R100 (payments done at the door)

For more information call the Marketing Officer Nthatuwa on 078 272 3173

(Covid restrictions will be followed. NO MASK NO ENTRY and temperatures will be checked at the door. Limit of 50 people per night – suggest patrons get there by 18h30) – Caroline Smart