Text: Xolani Tembu
Photography: Lungelo Mbulwana
On a cold, ferocious and untrusty pavement of inner Johannesburg an unusual friendship exists between Elijah Simama (Mandla Gaduka), a sickly, devout Christian elderly Motswanaman and Silence Mhlongo (Seneliso Dladla), his reluctantly atheist yet unseasoned boisterous Zulu companion. The two men are homeless and have taken residence at a fairly lit street corner that is by day bustling with activity and by night, a pacific home. Though evidently unwell from a respiratory malady of sorts, Elijah still manages to gather ample strength to sing, whistle and perform routines personal to his and Silence’s friendship on their return home from flimflammery daily. Evenings are spent rummaging through loquacious socio-political banter that borders on science, economics and philosophy as the men establish how the other’s day went. Here, the audience is introduced to Silence and Elijah’s learned sides as they dispel society’s continually unilateral perspectives of the homeless and awakens it to this almost never fathomed reality.
Under the direction of Phala Oakeditse Phala, the play is staged with support from the Department of Arts and Culture’s incubator programme to celebrate the life of its respected creator, playwright and actor John Moalusi Ledwaba who passed away in December 2017. The play uncomfortably introduces the audience to a life of nothingness often kept at bay by the advantaged. It lays bare to the audience a world riddled with lack, fear and violence but thrives nonetheless. Gaduka and Dladla’s persons are incomprehensibly put through strenuous acculturation processes in this showcase as they seek to deliver an accurate depiction of this often passively thought ofsubject. Leaving the audience cringing as they urinate and defecate in this corner every now and then, Elijah and Silence remind the audience that the concrete pavement is all persons like them have at any given time. While the phrase ‘the homeless’ has become representative of the nuisance such people are at traffic lights and CBD parking bays, this showcase reclaims its true meaning beyond all the quotidian shallow representations.
A display of engaged hierarchical organisation among those who don’t have is brought to the fore as Elijah, who until now had assumed the role of a senior mentor to Silence, is reminded by Silence that he is infact his tenant on this corner and could be evicted at anytime. Their roles reverse more than a few times in the performance where both characters find themselves at the mercy of the other during their terms of short-lived yet powerful positions. The performance draws parallels from real life events and embodies the youthfulness, agility and decisiveness of the Economic Freedom Fighters as displayed in Silence’s character while Elijah represents the stubbornness of the African National Congress in acknowledging and accepting change, thus moving with the times.
A fountain of proverbs with every line delivered, this showcase’s brilliance is let down by poor stage management and direction. The substandard opening and closing scenes’ transitions display a lack of creativity on the part of the director though these could have been rescued by well-timed transition lighting and the suitable use of sound effects representative of a street environment. Phala is equally unsuccessful in connecting the showcase’s opening acapella to the entire performance so as to demonstrate its significance but instead lays out the red carpet for wordiness that is at times preachy thus subjecting the characters to cabotinage. The unexpected breakage of the fourth wall through narration towards the end is also rather awkward as is Dladla’s constant overlook of his character’s stuttering nature which he delivers it seems, only when he remembers. While the script is extraordinary and relevant, poor and unimaginative direction undoubtedly renders the talented cast ineffectual and thus the show not deserving of the Market Theatre’s stage. Tickets are available from The Market Theatre Box Office from R90.00. The curtain will drop on the 03rd June 2018.