[REVIEW] Star-loaded 'Nongogo' received well by audiences

The play 'Nongogo' is currently showing at the Market Theatre. It is a captivating piece rife with unfulfilled hopes and ambitions, friendship and dependence, dark secrets and jealousy.

Vusi Kunene and Zikhona Sodlaka are two of the all-star cast members of 'Nongogo' now playing at the Market Theatre. Picture(s): Brett Rubin & Lungelo Mbulwana/Market Theatre

JOHANNESBURG - Nongogo, directed by James Ngcobo, is set in a shebeen outside of Johannesburg in the 1950s' vibrant yet turbulent time in the history of South Africa.

The play, one of Athol Fugard's earliest works, tells the tale of displaced township individuals gripped by a futile longing to belong and be loved.

Ngcobo says the play's broad theme is romance.

"It’s such a timeless quality, and love is a primary emotion we all share across the differences of social status. Each actor brought a depth of emotion and understanding of their character’s complexity to the process. It makes for an extremely moving representation of the simplicity of love in a very complex era.”

Zikhona Sodlaka plays Queenie - a woman of strength, determination and courage as she dreams of a better life and has a past that’s riddled with dark secrets.

Zenzo Ngqobe plays Johny, while Bongani Gumede portrays Patrick’s character, a drunkard whose wife is giving birth to his fifth child and all he worries about is the name he will give to his new son. And if it's a girl? Oh boy! Peter Mashigo plays Blackie.

Vusi Kunene, playing Sam, is best known for his role as villain Jack Mabaso in the SABC1's _Generations. _He spoke to EWN about his character.

"Sam is Queeny's friend. A businessman. He doesn't mix business with pleasure. But if pleasure brings business, so be it. Money is 'the difference between the full belly I got now and an empty one'. I know many people who are like Sam. But [as an actor] you have to find something in you that connects that person you imagine to be the character, into that chamber that will fire the character the right way."

About working with the all-star cast members, he said: "We work well together. We respect each other as actors. And we respect each person's contribution to the story. It's important for me to acknowledge the other actors and the purpose they have for my character to have a life. It's something you can't achieve if all the actors have too much ego."

When asked about how they are able to do the production alongside other daily commitments, he said: "It's more like working around Nongogo than the other way round. The play is all you think about, even on off days. It's just about finding a way for things to work."

It takes great tenacity to put in the same effort that was put in the stage performance the day/night before, so what keeps them going?

Kunene said: "There is no secret. It's commitment. You commit to the work. Each show is different. The last show is gone. What matters is the one you're doing now. You just want this show to be better than the last one. That fuels you to want to do your very best."

In his parting words, Kunene said: "We want people to appreciate that we've given our all to tell a story. And we want them to take the journey with us. And to feel each character, as an individual and as part of the ensemble."

The play's director told EWN he is pleased because audiences have warmed up to this production.

"This might be a play that was done before. This is a period piece, but let's note that lives haven't changed for a lot of people in this country."

Ngcobo adds: "And it's great that the cast understands the temperature of this country, they are well-read about life in this country and continent."

He says they have created an amazing space of humility as well as visible characters.

"They perform to a full house every day, made up of both black and white, young and old people."

The five characters are connected to each other by the way they all need each other. There is intrigue in those being met for the first time and a sense of loyalty by those who have known each other for years.

Nongogo is a captivating piece rife with unfulfilled hopes and ambitions, friendship and dependence, dark secrets and jealousy.

Prior to the opening night, Ngcobo had said: “Each of the cast members was chosen for their ability to take ownership of their respective characters.”

At the end what gets the audience on their feet for the much-deserved standing ovation is not only the captivating performance by the sought-after and mature talent, but for me, it's also the bitter-sweet conclusion of the play where so much is said with no words, but just stares that say whatever you can imagine. Whatever it is, it fits.

Nongogo shows at the Market Theatre until 15 July.