Insightful, vibrant and intense, Tsotsi the Musical is a compassionate social commentary that interweaves the lives of several characters living in a township, and explores how their choices and circumstances led them to where they are. If you’ve read the book by Athol Fugard and watched the Academy-award winning film, you will be surprised by the expansion of characters. The story focuses on Tsotsi, the soulless killer with a tragic past, who unexpectedly finds his humanity when he accidentally kidnaps a baby; Miriam, a god-fearing Zimbabwean woman who is confronted by an ethical crisis when she feels compassion for a villain; Boston an intelligent and honourable man who serves as an antithesis to Tsotsi’s lack of decency, and a put-upon shop owner from Bangladesh whose shop is branded with the sign ”Go Home”.
Shifting from the present to the past, flashbacks provide insight into the titular character. The early scenes of young David begin the story of how a childhood burdened with loss, grief, poverty, and violence moulded a boy, who could have been a man, into a monster. Tsotsi and his gang terrorise the community by robbing, invading homes and killing. A particularly heinous scene is the murder of a man in a train, the thugs callously jumping over his dead body to make their escape. The man became a target after making the fatal mistake of “smiling” in Joburg.
Gripped, and bracing myself for more darkness and suspense, I was upended by the most ebullient musical experience that I’ve had in years.
The theatre quaked with high-spirited songs of praise and protest, requiems of longing, moving lullabies and exhilarating group ensembles. The brilliance of composer Zwai Bala, the emotional and profound lyrics of Mkhululi Mabija, the electrifying dance moves choreographed by Thandazile Radebe, spurred the audience into incessant bursts of applause and a chorus of whistles and cheers. The romantic contemporary dance sequence performed in dim lighting was nothing short of hypnotic, and I hummed the yearnful miners’ lament, Thandiwe, as I drove home.
Mxolisi “Zuluboy” Majozi owns the role of Tsotsi, visibly comfortable and literally moving fluidly within the body of a thug. Other standout performances include the utter domination of the remarkable voices of Bianca Le Grange as Soekie, a fearless and hilarious shebeen queen with a heart of gold, and Thembisile Ntaka as Adedola, a glamorous Nigerian queenpin.
As entertaining and often comical as the production is, Tsotsi the Musical frequently swings the pendulum from humour to heartbreak. A woman who begs for assistance from the police officer to help find her missing child is dismissively met with the suggestion that she should pray. Angry protesters confront corrupt politicians and a disabled man laments the loss of his legs after an accident in the mines. A hostile father scolds his emotionally battered son for not being a real man when the child begs to keep his dead mother’s suitcase. Poverty and violence cling to Tsotsi even in moments of love, as he removes the baby’s nappy with the knife he uses to kill.
Tsotsi the Musical spotlights several societal ills in a way that is entertaining, reflective, and relevant; this is a story for our time.
Tsotsi, the Musical runs at the Artscape Theatre 8 to 17 February 2018.