For three nights running, the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State hosted a double bill of productions from North West and Gauteng, and the theatre starved patrons of Bloemfontein came out in their numbers to welcome the visitors. ART STATE publisher Mpho Matsitle was at closing night and made notes.
The two shows were, as is the norm during this month, centred around women. Once A Woman, written by Rebaone Marumo and under the stewardship of Seipone Nkoadipo, focused its muscle on the story of erased martyr Nkagiseng Kelepile in particular and that of women freedom fighters in general. Hot on its heels on the nippy Saturday evening was Meatology by Themba Mahlangu, which declared its mission as ‘dealing of patriarchy and gender stereotypes’. The theatre currently known as Andre Huguenet was the field where these dreams confronted us.
A Lesson in History
Once A Woman was a show of two halves, one regrettable and the other intermittently entertaining. The story itself is nothing to write home about, it’s the usual stale state sponsored narrative of ‘we fought so hard for the freedom you enjoy today’; on this score we can excuse the writers – artists are people too and they must eat. The ANC too, as the custodians of and through the state, are well within their right to sponsor propagation of their narrative. The payer may call the tune, but on how it’s played the piper has monopoly of responsibility.
The regrettable half of the play broke the cardinal rule of literature: “show, don’t tell”. The narration was overdone and at times completely unnecessary. The overuse of the narrative device betrayed a nervousness of the writer and director; it was almost as if they don’t trust the performance to deliver the story, or the audience was deemed not smart enough to get it, hence everything had to be repeated. Which made the play unnecessarily long. To add salt to injury, the narration, delivered by the main protagonist Nkagiseng, played by two thespians Bonolo Tlaletse and Ntshepiseng Montshiwa, was as inspiring as reading an obituary written in first person on a funeral programme.
What makes the above irksome is that there were moments in the show that were remarkably beautiful, indicating that the directors had the skill and talent to deliver the story without the longwinded lectures of the narrator. The conversation between the Special Branch officers is a good example of how to deliver the story without reciting Wikipedia. The school sequence was also pleasing, playfully illustrating the evil of imposing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. But most rewarding – especially aesthetically – was the going to exile sequence: The all women cast, dressed in black tights, singing a wonderful version of Sabashiya Abazali on the dark lit stage, were a judicious blend of Pink Panther type sneaking and the vhaVenda maiden dance the Domba. This scene, coupled with the song, any audience would understand at once. Which rendered the narration that preceded it superfluous at best.
#SobashiyabazaliBethu is a very sad struggle song but uplifting and nostalgic.
Sobashiy’abazal’ekhaya – We will leave our parents at home
Siphuma sangena kwamany’amazwe – We go in and out of foreign countries
Lapho kungazi khon’ubaba nomama – To places our fathers and mothers don’t know
Silwel’inkululeko – Chasing the freedom dream.
Sithi salani – We bid you well,
Salan’ekhaya – We bid you well
Salan’ekhaya – At home stay well.
#ONCE_A_WOMAN is an all Women-Cast Musical Production, which tells a story about Nkagiseng, who wanted to see total liberation of women from all aspects
Produced and Directed by : Seipone Nkoadipo
Written by : Rebaone Marumo
Choreographed : Lesedi Mogomotso
Musical Director : Kholofelo Kola
Posted by Department of Culture, Arts and Traditional Affairs – Cata Nwpg on Friday, August 24, 2018
The cast of Once A Woman perform Sabashiya Abazali. Video by the North West Department of Culture, Art and Traditional Affairs.
The music was the mainstay golden jewel of the production, the bassist John Jumba stood head above the high shoulders of the band under the stewardship of Josh Sekhohola. Mathapelo September also delivered an award winning performance as the general in charge of the guerrilla forces in Angola.
Had the beautiful moments like the above, including the final scene depicting the execution of Nkagiseng where in an impassioned trance she faced death while exalting and summoning the ancestors of the struggle – boNgoyi, boMadikizela, boMaxeke… Had these been the standard of the play throughout, instead of the lectures we were subjected to, we’d have a better story to tell. But as things stand, Once A Woman is a great lesson in history but as a work of art it leaves a lot to be desired.
Metaphors Are Dangerous
We are invited back to the foyer of the theatre after the thirty minute break between the two plays. A smartly dressed man carrying a sjambok gives us a menacing look as we file in. Two women dressed in mamasekhaya gear sit at the far end of the foyer obediently carrying plates. On a table in a foetal position lies a brown body enveloped in cling-wrap like meat. As the menacing man walks about the audience giving them instructions of his household, the body struggles to free itself from its bondage. It finally does, amid his barking and sjambok wielding. It is a young female body, stark naked, terrified. With strings attached to it. The man gives the strings to some men in the audience watching on in shock and embarrassment. Don’t be shy, he commands, meat is meat. Let’s eat brethren. It is a brilliant metaphor – how often do men gather around a female body casually gang-raping it in fact, in words and with leering eyes? One of the wives breaks out of the societally imposed shell to confront the men for participating in this unethical covenant; of course no answer forthcoming. Just the same dumbstruck embarrassed smile and darting eyes square up against her righteous rage.
Once inside the theatre at his command, the wives are back to their expected docile nature, he’s still taking up all the space with his self-aggrandising soliloquy, and we are confronted with two bodies in the same position and attire. It was quite telling that when earlier the female body in all its glory/shame was bared for our eyes to guzzle up hardly a gasp could be discerned, but as soon as the male body came in full view the house almost went into epileptic shock. All the hours of Game of Thrones and Lars von Trier movies have clearly not prepared one for full frontal male nudity. The lesson here is clear as two stark naked bodies playing Hloho-Mahetla on stage: Only the female body is available for consumption. In short; not all bodies are meat. The script ironically exposed itself by rushing to cover the male body but left the female body on display for a while longer.
These bodies soon morphed into distinguishable people: the son, the heir to the menacing man’s sjambok. And the daughter, the would-be recipient of its lashes (the sjambok – like almost everything in this crafty piece of theatre – is a metaphor. A metaphor of wonton ruthless power). Except that this daughter refuses to listen to its whims and whips. She refuses to be meat – and this is where things (rightfully so) fall apart. She is determined to tear the social fabric asunder – engulfing in her rage the menacing man monster, his heir and her mothers. The latter agree with her call for their collective demeatification, but fear her radical ideas will eat away at the gains of their slow progress. But she keeps at it. Her impassioned pleas, at times sounding like a barrage of woke tweets, are a painful break from the metaphor laden dialogues that coloured the production. The scariest thing about this production is how meat and woman are so easily interchangeable. Meatology is a comically dark exposé of our unethical gender relations – and the painful part is that none of it is really shocking, coz we have all long agreed that meat is meat. It is time for a new covenant.
FEATURED IMAGE: Discussions and debates about smashing Meatology to pieces. SOURCE: Pacofs Facebook page.