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[REVIEW] Sophiatown: Different cast, same passion & emotion

In a time of political and economic uncertainty and “hysteria” as some have called it, one could really use some escapism that theatre offers.

Barileng Malebye as Princess and Christine van Hees as Ruth Golden on the set of Sophiatown at the Market Theatre playing from 31 March to 14 May 2017. Picture: Market Theatre.

The Market Theatre has brought theatre lovers another season of Sophiatown, which is playing until 14 May.

I saw Sophiatown last year, and I didn’t believe that I would take away anything new from the play if I watched it again this year.

I was wrong.

In a time of political and economic uncertainty and “hysteria” as some have called it, one could really use some escapism that theatre offers.

The lively and memorable musical is being revived with a new, young cast under the experienced eye of director Malcolm Purkey.

In his director’s note, Purkey said: “I have chosen to focus on the questions of identity, cultural clash and issues of race and conflict. Clearly, these themes and their manifestations in the current crises for post-apartheid South Africa resonate very deeply. “Sophiatown is a national set work for Grade 11s and it is my pleasure to make every effort to create a total theatre experience for young audiences in the hope that these audiences will become the makers and lovers of theatre for years to come.”

The production stars Sandile Dlangalala as Mingus, Barileng Malebye as Princess, Christine van Hees as Ruth Golden and Arthur Zitha as Fahfee, Sechaba Ramphele as Jakes, Tshepiso Tshabalala as Lulu, Joel Zuma as Charlie and Hlengiwe Madlala as Mama.

The play is set in the 1950s and it sees a black “family” - Mingus “the American”, his lover Princess, schoolchild Lulu, Charlie, the coloured man, writer Jakes, and numbers cruncher Fahfee – all come together at Mama’s house in Sophiatown. One day a Jewish woman, Ruth, appears on their doorstep in response to an ad in the paper for a housemate.

This is as much as I’ll tell you without giving away the rest of the story.

I had a chat with Malebye who plays Princess about how this current play differs from last year’s version: “The show is not very different (from last year’s). The director has tried to keep the show the same throughout, but obviously, with different casts, it will change but the essence of the piece remains the same.”

Regarding working with her on-stage lover, Sandile, she added: “Working with Sandi has been amazing. The whole team has embraced him with warm arms and it has been great. Having a team member replaced does have its own challenges but as actors, we adapt. It is one of the things we learn in school."

Dance routines and singing are perfectly and creatively weaved into the narrative, with song performances in isiZulu. And don’t fret, if you can’t understand the language you will still enjoy the acapella melody and harmony.

Towards the end of the play I observed a few sets of teary eyes spread through a sea of smiles, a clear indication of the range of emotions the play is able to evoke. Overall, the piece is entertaining, educational, funny, and a must see.

The theatre auditorium was packed with Sunday theatregoers, who gave the performance a standing ovation.

You may do the same if you see it.

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