Since 2014 a dynamic team of story-tellers, playwrights, theatre-makers, academics and researchers set about exploring the increasing levels of Whoonga (low-grade heroin) use currently plaguing KZN communities. The result of the two-year research/play-making process, is a powerful and multi-award winning theatre production titled Ulwembu (isiZulu for Spider web) which will be having a short public run at the Hillbrow theatre.The creative team consists of award-winning playwright and director Neil Coppen (Tin Bucket Drum, Abnormal Loads and Animal Farm) top local actress Mpume Mtombeni, Kwa-Mashu based community-theatre group: The Big Brotherhood and educational sociologist Dr. Dylan McGarry.Ulwembu, which has been described as ‘poignant’ and ‘essential’ viewing, affords local theatre audiences the opportunity to walk in the shoes of misunderstood others: be it people who use illicit drugs, dealers, police-officers, social-workers or families of people who use drugs.Generally, the attitudes we see to drug use, is that it has a catastrophic effect on our communities, yet our research (alongside global research) shows that systemically it is the catastrophic state of our communities that are driving the use of Whoonga. “Drug use is not the root problem, but the symptom and politically expedient and attractive target,” says Shaun Shelly, a research partner from UCT and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria. Ulwembu reveals possible answers to some of the big questions we currently face around street level drug use in our country, through two years of in depth research at multiple scales.
Ulwembu is more than just a play, but an immersive social learning tool, that brings together diverse citizens and civil servants into a transformative and transgressive empathetic space. It explores the many pathways into drug use, and what pathways are available or could be available to get out of a drug dependant life. “If we want to respond to drugs humanely and comprehensively in South Africa” explains Dr Dylan McGarry (co-writer/producer), “we need to first understand the interwoven and deeply connected nature of this problem. Our production strives to give this contentious issue, a more human face and perspective…. We call this form of theatre ‘Empatheatre’ in which we create an ‘amphitheater of empathy’ for all those involved.”
Ulwembu completely expanded the team’s expectations of the power of theatre to not only change perception, but actually inspire meaningful change: “With this production,” urges Neil Coppen (co-writer/director), “we wanted to create an engrossing and visceral theatrical journey for audiences, allowing the power of the story and the characters escalating dilemmas, to reveal the many complexities and facets behind the crises.”
Ulwembu was recently awarded best script, best director (Coppen), best-led actress (Mthombeni), best supporting actor (Ngubane) and best newcomer (Ngcebo) at the 2017 Durban Theatre Awards. The cast includes Mpume Mthombeni, Vumani Khumalo, Phumlani Ngubane, Ngcebo Cele, Sandile Nxumalo and Zenzo Msomi. Direction is by Neil Coppen, Design by Dylan McGarry, the script is co-written by the entire team.
Show times at the Hillbrow theatre and its surrounds are Tues 24 Jan 2017 @15:30, Wed 25 @ 10:30 & 19:30, Thurs 26: 10:30 @ 13:30. The show on Friday 27 is at 10:30 and will be taking place at the Rand Aid Association Tarentaal Village. 200 Modderfontein Avenue.
School and group bookings are welcome. Pay what you can on arrival. Seat reservations can be made through Zanele Dube / Telephone: 011 720 7011
For more information please visit the Ulwembu website: http://armadylan.wixsite.com/ulwembu
“An extremely important piece of theatre… But this production is not a stereotyped “say no to drugs” play. It is a deeply researched theatre project, which is authentic, insightful, razor-sharp and frighteningly real. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is educational theatre at its zenith.”
Keith Millar, Theatre Critic, ARTSMART.
Ulwembu has been made possible through the generous support of the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science. Urban Futures Centre, Twist Theatre Development Project (Twist Durban), Think Theatre and the generous constant support of the Denis Hurley Centre and the Hillbrow Theatre (Outreach Foundation).