14 December 2012

Namibia: Some Thoughts About Theatre


Though I appreciate a good one man show as much the next person, particularly if the one man is Romulus Petersen or David Ndjavera, this year I was delighted to see the return of young ensemble casts breathing life into stories about the social ills plaguing local townships.

Sometimes musical as in Sepiso Mwange’s ‘Thirty Nine Steps’, other times hilarious like in Magreth Nunuhe’s ‘Tura Springer’ and often didactic ala Jacques Mushaandja’s ‘Shebeen Queen’, ‘My Koek is Moeg’ and ‘The Forgotten Children’, the young theatre scene has become

a site in which playwrights and performers have begun to discuss poverty, prostitution and the prospects of characters all too familiar from our city’s streets.

While the youth focused on today, the old guard seemed intent on presenting the past. Veteran playwright, Freddie Philander took a trio of plays to the ultimate Theatre in Khomasdal as part of the fifth annual contemporary theatre festival of the Committed Artists of Namibia but battled to coax audiences out on the cold winter nights.

Nevertheless, those who attended his production of Athol Fugard’s ‘Playland’, ‘Sizwe Bansi is Dead’ and his own ‘The Teacher’, would no doubt have felt treated to formidable acting by Romulus Petersen and David Ndjavera.

Presented in the mode of ‘poor theatre’ and intense in terms of acting and apartheid era premises, Philander’s Fugard plays while perfectly presented seemed to struggle to find an audience still concerned with the issues of old as articulated in the iconic plays.

Also delving into the classics was the School Set Work on Stage Programme sponsored by the NTN with the Ministry of Education. An instructive offering aimed at students studying John Steinbeck’s ‘of Mice and Men’ as well as Chinua

Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. The theatre programme offered grade 11 and 12 pupils an opportunity to see their set works come to life while gearing up for their finals.

Another play which sprung from a classic tale was fourth year unam student Blessing Mbonambi’s ‘The Story of Red’, that used film techniques in a dark retelling of the grimm’s famous story.

The student play went on to win Mbonambi Best Newcomer Director and Best Play at the Namibian Theatre and Film Awards with Joalette de Villiers scooping Best Actress under his skillful direction.

Young theatre continued to prevail at this year’s NTFAs with Brumilda English winning Best Newcomer for Mushaandja’s’ ‘Shebeen Queen’ with Armas Shivute Armas winning Best Male Actor for his turn in the same.David Ndjavera who has done an incredible amount of work starring in six of the NFC Short Films and performing in numerous plays was awarded Best Director for ‘of Mice and Men’ while Joseph Molapong picked up the award of Best Stage, Set and Costume for ‘Things Fall Apart’.

Laurinda olivier-Sampson was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and dancer haymich olivier took home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a meerkat in last year’s ‘happy Beat’.

Those dancing to a less happy tune were olivier’s society of dancers who were left out of the NTFAs along with Spoken Word and Stand- up Comedy. This was despite all three areas of entertainment growing and garnering massive attendance in the last two years.

On the fringe though popular at the FNCC was Tanya Terblanche’s Theatresports which boasted the likes of ‘Shebeen Queen’s’ helouis goraseb and Junelle Stroh who excelled at impressive improvisation.

Moving from improvisation to adaptation, this year saw director, Sandy Rudd, reimaging the iconic musical ‘Mama Mia’ before embarking on an eight month marketing and fundraising campaign that will see the mammoth musical staged in April 2013. The musical aptly titled ‘Meme Mia’ will star dancer Tuli Shityuwete in her first singing role as well as celebrated soloists Bonnie Pereko, Esther Fellner and Lize Ehlers.

All in all a diverse and promising year for the theatrical, it seems local theatre is slowly rousing its sleepy head and becoming a viable medium in which to present indigenous spectacle, song, dance and even improv to paying audiences. With young playwrights like

Mushaandja and Mbonambi directing and starring in award- winning original and adapted plays, it is clear that the youth is discovering a storytelling stadium long since dominated by the old guard and are ready and willing to learn, bust conventions and present segments of their own experience and imagination rather than rehash acclaimed texts in rote and unremarkable ways.

That said, there is no doubt that local theatre is clawing its way towards a refreshingly local light with a new dramatis personae made primarily of the young... and the rebellious.

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