Plays ‘better each year’:Vibrant school theatre groups throw hearts and souls into annual Eastern Cape competition with topical homespun dramas

Living History: A scene from the play 'Tableaux in Red: Oil on Canvas 1976' performed by Selborne College drama students. Picture: FILE
Living History: A scene from the play 'Tableaux in Red: Oil on Canvas 1976' performed by Selborne College drama students. Picture: FILE
The Selborne College Drama Society continues to shine at theatres across the province.

The boys’ drama group bagged yet another accolade on Saturday with a first place at the Alexander Playhouse Drama Festival for Eastern Cape High Schools. They walked away with a cash prize of R10 000.

Just a few weeks ago the boys won the Eastern Cape leg of the ATKV Tienertoneel held in Port Elizabeth.

The schools drama festival kicked off in East London earlier this month with 11 high schools from across the province putting their best foot forward in the hopes of taking this year’s first place.

The adjudicators for the first round were media personalities Carol-Ann Kelleher and George Mountjoy, while the second round saw playwrights Deon Opperman and Fezile Mphela take over to choose the best play in the festival.

Following the first round, Selborne College, GHS Queenstown and Hudson Park High School were in the finals, and from Thursday to Saturday these three schools battled it out for the winning spot.

Selborne’s play Tableaux In Red: Oil On Canvas, 1967 earned the boys their first place.

It has been a hit on many stages across the Eastern Cape since its inception in 2016, and its winning streak continues.

The moving all-male play tells the story of a modern artist who captures the events on June 16 1976 through a series of artworks which portray the events, the aftermath, and the emotional impact of the Soweto Uprisings.

At the weekend’s performance each scene of the play was executed with precision and intensity and the actors evoked forgotten emotions in their audience. The play is a fresh and thought provoking way of excavating a painful piece of history for the nation, whose wounds have yet to fully heal.

The performance closes with the artist calling for the creation of a rainbow canvas, saying: “The road to freedom is a long one. The rainbow canvas will be filled with imperfections. We are not perfect, but we are still a rainbow.”

The play speaks to young and old and leaves one feeling hopeful for the country’s eventual healing.

Drama teacher and director Jo Stemmet believes that Saturday’s win means the play is succeeding in driving home its message of reconciliation and restoration.

“The most important thing that has been driving this play is the message it carries. It needs to be heard. There is a sense of accomplishment in the boys because of this win. They put their hearts and souls into this play.”

Hudson Park High School took second place with their production: The Merry Wives of Nkandla.

This play delivered satirical commentary on issues currently trending in the country. It is a story of the four wives of Nkandla being driven by chauffeur Sipho to their homestead when their limousine breaks down in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded with little to no resources for survival.

Three of the wives are used to the lavish life their title brings and cannot cope with their reality, while the first wife, older than the rest, tells them that women have been suffering for centuries, and they should learn to carry their struggle with pride. Although delivering a serious message, there are lighter moments that had the audience in fits of laughter as the monologue ridicules the current state of the nation.

First wife Sizakele, played by Lerato Motaung, says: “We have Nkandla on one side, and civilisation on the other side. What do we have in the middle? The spear of the nation”, to the delight of the crowd.

The play ends with the chauffeur revealing that he is Julius Malema’s half-brother, the “bloody agent”, and leaving the wives to save themselves ... or not.

The play entertained the audience as it tackled relevant issues that affect all South Africans in the present day. Drama teacher and director of the play Pierre Perold said: “The play deals with women who suddenly have immense power and privilege and have fallen victim to the abuse of this power.

“The ruling party is divided, and corruption and nepotism are rife. I felt the play was relevant because of our current political situation.”

Along with the play coming second at the festival, Motaung, who plays the first wife, was chosen as one of the most outstanding performers at the festival. She shared the win with Yanga Malotana from Queenstown GHS, who played a death row inmate in the school’s play Ladykillers.

In this play three women, who are all arrested for committing different felonies, shared their stories and motives for their crimes.

Malotana plays a mentally disturbed young woman who killed, in execution style, a group of men who raped her and her friend, killing the friend, while they were on vacation in Mexico.

The two girls each walked away with a cash prize of R1000, as well as trophies, for the exceptional execution of their characters.

Speaking to the Dispatch about this year’s festival, chief adjudicator Deon Opperman, said: “The festival was as enjoyable as ever.

“I was pleased to see how the skills of the educators and pupils have improved over the years.

“The standard of the productions keeps on improving each year.”

Opperman said the aim of the festival was to provide a platform for pupils in theatre to present their plays to professional judges as well as to one another.

“An important component of the festival is also to facilitate ‘train the trainer’ skills transfers, so that the educators who supervise the learners’ drama training can themselves refine their skill set. It is also an opportunity for pupils to get a sense of one another’s standard of work.”

He said the festival comprised a “fascinating collection of plays”.

“One play was a docu-drama which gave a kaleidoscopic picture of what happened in 1976, and another was a picture of where we are as a country now. It was fascinating putting these side by side. The final play focused on the actual performance, the storyline and the individual characters. It was a lovely evening of variety, talent and skill.”

Fezile Mphela, who co-judged on the final night, said: “It was encouraging and inspirational to know that the arts industry has a life beyond its current roleplayers.

“I am confident that these pupils will shine on whatever platform they choose to branch into, because their ability to stand in front of people and articulate themselves in that manner guarantees success in whatever field they go into.”

Opperman said the Eastern Cape had earned itself a reputation for producing many of the country’s finest theatre practitioners.

“The standard is high and the pupils and their educators are passionate and dedicated.

“In this year’s festival, girls certainly owned the stage.

“The ultimate goal is to encourage participation in the making of theatre, regardless of whether the learners plan to pursue a career in the entertainment industry or not.” —