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Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Durbanites are in for a rare theatrical treat, when Isidlamlilo - the Fire Eater arrives for a short week-long run at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

Isidlamlilo is an electrifying new one-woman tour-de-force brought to life by acclaimed actress Mpume Mthombeni (Agatha in E-tv’s Durban Gen) and award-winning theatre-maker Neil Coppen with set-design by Greg King, lighting by Tina Le Roux and sound-design by Tristan Horton.

This acclaimed new South African play recently premiered on the main programme at the 2022 National Arts Festival to rave reviews and standing ovations, with critic Steve Kretzeman writing: “Woven together from true stories and testimonials gathered by the Empatheatre company, with a near flawless presentation and delivery, Isidlamlilo expands our horizons so often cramped by fears real and imagined, and imparts some of the courage the dispossessed have to daily gather to continue to live. This is fantastic theatre.”

Over the course of 80 minutes, Mthombeni, through a frank, comic and captivating storytelling, relays the death-defying life story of Zenzile Maseko.

Maseko, a 60-something isiZulu grandmother, rents a cramped room in a Durban’s woman’s hostel, and is haunted by her past working as an IFP assassin (fire-eater) in the build-up to the 1994 elections. When Home Affairs mistakenly declare her dead and are unable to reverse the error on their system, Zenzile finds herself cast into the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare, driven to desperate measures to prove she still alive and made, in the process, to reawaken parts of her identity and past that she has spent a majority of her adult life trying to suppress.

Maskeo’s story seamlessly propels us back and forth through time, traversing the shifting landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal and while charting critical events in the province’s post-1994 trajectory through to its present-day floods and insurrections. While the story offers a critical look at the eddying cycles of violence and revenge that play out across generations, it is most of all a story about redemption, regeneration and reinvention.

The script is written by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Neil Coppen in collaboration with Mthombeni, and is based on a range of testimonials shared with them during their Empatheatre research processes.

Together, the creative team have woven in elements of Zulu folklore, biblical mythology, magical-realist framings to make for an unforgettable theatrical experience that speaks to both the country’s haunted past and present-day complexities.

Together, Mpume and Neil alongside Dylan McGarry, are the co-founders of Empatheatre which sees the team forging creative responses to complex social concerns. The company was recently awarded the prestigious Bertha Artivism Award for their theatre and social-justice work. Mthombeni and Coppen have worked in close collaboration for the past 15 years creating and touring works both locally and internationally including the multi-award-winning Tin Bucket Drum which went on to tour the country and world for several years.

Isidlamlio has been made possible with generous support by the NAC PESP fund, The National Art’s Festival, and DUT drama department.

Show times November 4, 5 and 8 at 19h00 with earlier shows on November 6 at 14h30 and November 9 at 11h00. Duration: 80 minutes (no interval). Age restriction: 13 +

Tickets R130 through Computicket. 10% Group discounts for block bookings of ten or more. Student/scholar and pensioner discount price of R110 applicable at outlets on presentation of a valid card. For schools and community theatre bookings contact Margie at or 083 251 9412