A circle of unity is formed. Silence fills the stage. The crew bows its heads and holds hands- each one talking to the universe to guide and bless the stage, the craft and the bodies as instruments of physical art. A round of applause breaks the silence. And now, the audience may enter to hear the voices of protest.
Written and directed by award-winning playwright Makhaola Ndebele, Gone Native is a physical theatre protest art performance narrated in isiZulu and English – reminiscent of Athol Fugard’s ‘Poor Theatre’. A combination of South African poetry (and clan names), struggle songs, monologues, music composed by the late Hugh Masekela, and dance narrate the delinquent love story of Regina Brooks (Marietjie Bothma) and Richard Khumalo (Soyiso Ndaba).
A blackout fills the stage while the band plays nostalgic township sounds of African jazz. The guitars and the keyboard remain in harmony like synchronised swimmers. The keyboardist (Sebetsa Ezbie Moila) bobs his head with every key and plays with the passion of Ray Charles. A pair of black and white Florsheim shoes, on the right-wing of the stage, taps the ground: An illustration of a guitarist (Sebetsa Ezbie Moila) dancing to the beat of his own bass.
Gone Native takes one to ekasi with township games like Morabaraba and sounds of “Mme! Awe, ke lapile. Ke lapile”. It is almost impossible to not feel as though you are part of the games in your own backyard. Songs like Miriam Makeba’s Lakuthona Ilanga transport you to a place where a lover reminisces of his/her lover. It makes you think of your lover during sunset, and a deep feeling coils within you to go seek and find your lover – wherever they may be.
Struggle songs like “Amaphoyisa ngezinhliziyo ezimnyama, ezingena musa, ezikhohlakaleyo” transport one back to the times when native people lived at the mercies of the white Apartheid regime police.
It is difficult to remain unmoved when one sees Marietjie Bothma belt out indigenous South African gospel songs like Namhla Nkosi. That is simply how electric the energy in the theatre is.
By Thandolwethu Gulwa
Photos by Megan Kelly