Thursday, October 22, 2020

Maitisong offers a unique Sarafina experience

When the movie Sarafina was released in 1992, I became a bit of a zealot. Every household I visited had a copy of the movie. If a census had been taken, I bet we would find Sarafina to have been the most watched movie in Southern Africa for 3 to 5 years after its release.

Taking a mini-poll in the newsroom, I found out I had not been alone. Everyone had a couple of favourite Sarafina songs. I was serenaded with responses?

?I love you Sarafina
I love you Sarafina
Sarafinaaaaaa

Sarafina please don?t run away from me

One male co-worker trilled in a falsetto, ?Se fedile setshaba, dikgomo di fedile.?

Another animatedly says, ?The one where Khanyi Maphumulo fires her first upwards, and sings, ?Freedom is coming tomorrow!?

espite the 21st Maitisong Festival, starting somewhat clandestinely when compared to previous festivals, it featured a rendition of Mbongeni Ngema?s raucous stage play, Sarafina, directed by Maru a Pula School?s Head of Drama, Aldo Brincat.

The play opened last Tuesday, with all roles played by students, save for the play?s abominable sell-out, crooked cop Sabela. This role was ably portrayed by Maitisong?s new director, Gao Lemmenyane. On stage, the character Sabela constantly rode a bicycle, which is affectionately called tshipi e ntso (black metal).

A casual atmosphere is established right away, with the actors littered about the stage, as the audience walk into the auditorium. The scene is of children bantering in the schoolyard. Amongst the expected black students, white and mixed race children make up the cast of students.

Three young men start to talk in current slang. One of the lads apparently had rendezvoused with a young lady and watched a play at the Maitisong! The young men jeer their friend?s romantic tryst while simultaneously reminding the audience of theatre etiquette, and taking a jab at Shakespearean theatre. The boys turn out to be uncouth, pissing in public and copiously using profanity. A ploy the director used to probably attract attention to the already bustling activity on the stage. One young man bellows, ?If any man should refuse me entry into the theatre, on my late arrival, I will have to beat the s?t out of him, before his father.?
Despite being laden with dirty language, the introduction to the play is quite effective.
As the play starts with Sarafina, played by 16-year-old, Obakeng Manowe, I am reminded of how much of a fan I was, recalling the movie verbatim. Following a row with her uncle, Sarafina laments to Mandela, who intentionally or not, the play accentuates as an imaginary friend.

The signature song, Sarafina, kicks off, with strong female voices in the chorus. The young cast gingerly goes through the choreography but, unfortunately, without the vigour we had come to expect of the musical.

The next song, which is the Lord?s Prayer, sang complete with its comical nuances, highlights, a young male singer, who is arguably the most excellent singer of the whole cast.

Aldo Brincat enhances his production with photo and drawing slide, projected on the stage?s back wall. Including a teleprompter with song lyrics, which is probably intentioned for audience participation, karaoke style.

The audience?s familiarity with the musical, works with and against Brincat?s production. While the play may be nostalgic, a viewer will be bound to compare the student amateur actors, to the movie actors who had performed the stage play and toured extensively before the movie?s production.

The play is worth watching because of its familiarity and interesting surreal interpretations that Brincat offers, the most memorable of which being Sarafina, lying unconscious from her torture in jail, and being lifted by guardian angels who are Crocodile and Miss Masembuko dressed curiously as sangomas. They pull apart the prison bars, which turn out to be made of rubber, letting Sarafina walk through, and she momentously regains consciousness.

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