Text: Xolani Tembu
Photographs: Iris Parker
It is the 1950s, a docile, recently married young couple from rural Natal, evocative of Gaz’lam’s Khethiwe and Sifiso, has resolved to pack the little they own and leave their agonizingly unbearable families for greener pastures. Timi Ngobese (Siyabonga Thwala) had heard of a place called Umkhumbane that was apparently overrun with mushrooms of rooms to rent. As he and his buoyant young bride Namhla Ngobese (Masasa Mbangeni) journeyed to the big city aboard a South African Railway Services locomotive, they arrive to a flurry of human bodies and mystifying stench that is characteristic of cities. Carrying an antique traveler’s suitcase and roll of sponge mattress remnant of enterprising township-street-pounding Zimbabwean and Mozambican merchants, the Ngobeses rest as they attempt to figure out how they would get to Umkhumbane. While they wait, enters Mlotshwa (Desmond Dube), a former rural Natal cum streetwise Umkhumbane denizen who after a short exchange with the Ngobeses, offers them a room in his yard. What follows is a rollercoaster of a life half lived burdened by the pressures of city life and shattered dreams. A true reminder that life is indeed what happens while we make plans.
Adapted from Es’kia Mphahlele’s 1954 short story, The Suitcase features an all-star cast in Siyabonga Thwala, Masasa Mbangeni, Desmond Dube and John Lata to name a few. Under the incredible direction of veteran actor and director James Ngcobo, the cast moves in mesmerizing fashion as it delivers the narrative. A combination of well-timed transitions and apposite supporting music through the voices of Gugu Shezi, Ndoh Dlamini and Nokukhanya Dlamini backed by well-known left handed guitarist Bheki Khoza, effortlessly transported the agreeable audience back to the 1950s when pinstriped suits, two-toned shoes and a selection of Dobbs and Stetson hats were the order of the day. The Suitcase is an indispensable reminder of the pureness of black love; simple, uncluttered and unadulterated. It is also a reminder of how precarious such love can be when left to its own devices.
While a much welcomed breakage of the fourth wall by the two narrators in Desmond Dube and John Lata takes place every so often, it also took away the momentum of the show, a rather rude reminder of the days when SABC channels would go on ad breaks in the middle of a feature film. Some would liken this feeling to an almost sneeze; truly, nothing could be more frustrating. The show could have certainly done well without the narration. With its talented cast, remarkable direction and well thought out set and lighting, it stands well on its own and carries the story with very little need for elucidation.
Congratulations must however, go out to the team, particularly Ngcobo for his refusal to render this show prosaic and pedestrian since its inception in 2006. Returning to The Market Theatre for a 6 week season, it would truly be unpatriotic to miss it after its critically acclaimed sold out season in the United Kingdom. Tickets are available from The Market Theatre Box Office at R90.00 for Tuesdays- Thursdays, R150.00 for Fridays-Saturdays and R130.00 for Sundays. For this season, the curtain will drop on the 26 November 2017.