National Arts Festival 2016: Tshepang

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Mncedisi Shabangu and Nonceba Constance Didi in Tshepang.  Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016
Mncedisi Shabangu and Nonceba Constance Didi in Tshepang.
Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016

It’s difficult not to be immediately captivated by this play. From the moment the lights go up and you catch a glimpse of the set along with the sound of children playing in the background, you start for feel as though you’re in a desolate place. “Nothing much ever happens hereSimon (Mncedisi Shabangu) says and thus sets the tone for what quickly reveals itself to be an arresting story with powerful, nuanced performances.

We watch and listen as Simon tells us stories about the people he encounters all along the narrative, seemingly random. All along it is clear that something heavy hangs over everything from the way Ruth (Nonceba Constance Didi) behaves erratically, never once saying anything. The layers begin to unravel at a steady pace and you are almost swallowed by the tragedy of it all.

Mncedisi Shabangu in Tshepang.  Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016
Mncedisi Shabangu in Tshepang.
Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016

Although the story of baby Tshepang is well known for those that followed it when it happened, this play is about so much more than that. It makes unlikely connections between childish experiences and adult disparity, young hurts and adult haplessness and all this in interwoven portrayals that manage to suck you through the proverbial rabbit hole and never once loses you.

Nonceba Constance Didi in Tshepang.  Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016
Nonceba Constance Didi in Tshepang.
Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016
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This town was raped a long time agoSimon declares towards the middle end betraying the truth of how society works. It is easy to sit on the outside looking in and pass judgment and more difficult to roll up the sleeves and get active. It puts a lens over the existing thin line between reporting on a tragedy and sensationalism. It forces you to care about the people in the thick of it, makes them realer than the tragedy; because they are the tragedy, no one needs to live this way.

Lara Foot’s writing and directing is powerful throughout and the performances are brilliant. Nonceba is especially unnerving in her mute physical portrayal of pain and suffering, you cannot escape it. Add to all of this Mncedisi’s honest narration and you have a thing of beauty.

Nonceba Constance Didi and Mncedisi Shabangu in Tshepang.  Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016
Nonceba Constance Didi and Mncedisi Shabangu in Tshepang.
Photo: Cue Pix/ Jodi van Vuuren National Arts Festival 2016

The play ran its last show last night at Graeme College but I’m certain it will run again elsewhere, do look out for it. It is an emotional journey of love, loss and redemption and by the end there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience. It isn’t difficult to see why the play has won all of the accolades and travelled the world as much as it has and it is another of my picks for best of fest 2016!

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