Review: Undermined A South African journey through manhood

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UnderminedRethink your evening plans. There’s a show that deserves your attention.

Debuting at the Kalk Bay Theatre before heading to the National Arts Festival at Grahamstown, a vibrant and talented team brings to the stage the enchanting story of Undermined. It is performed by a trio who have poured their hearts into the production: Nhlahla Mkhwanazi (co-writer), Luke Brown (co-writer) and Stefan Erasmus. Together with multi-award winning director and writer Tara Notcutt, the team has created a fantastical story told in a way that takes physical theatre to new heights of creativity.

Undermined is the tale of Madlebe, son of a fierce leader of the Shangaan tribe, in an area of Mozambique where the land is dry and desolate, and life and death are inextricable. Madlebe wants to do his tribe proud by making money, while also showing his devotion to his lover by bringing her a white wedding dress. He makes the decision to travel to the land of promise, the city of gold, and through long overland travels and exciting adventures, this country man with a big heart and supersonic hearing makes his way to Johannesburg filled with determination to succeed in his quest. He ends up in the gold mines, working long hours under tough circumstances, but his hard work and honest living bring luck into his life, and Madlebe becomes an unlikely hero. And what a hero he is.

What keeps Undermined spellbinding throughout is the manner in which it is told. The three actors use their bodies, their voices and a triple set of headlamps to build the worlds across which they traverse. Even in the opening seconds of the play – as Brown, Erasmus and Mkhwanazi launch into a stop-motion series of movements, their self-made sound effects forming an a capella choir of action – the audience is alert and engaged.

Madlebe’s epic journey into South Africa and through manhood is told in six distinct chapters, each of them introducing more colourful characters and further twists in the plot. The talented trio between them cover every character, every road trip, every sunrise and song. A nice touch is that each actor plays Madlebe during a different phase of his life. Clever little stage tricks like this accentuate the comic book style of storytelling, a frame-by-frame flow which captures and enraptures. And there is something so uniquely and distinctly African about the story, you can almost smell the dust from the savannah and the grime on the urban streets of Jozi.

Undermined is well worth the trip to Kalk Bay Theatre. It is testament to the boundless creativity inside us, a reminder of the childlike joy elicited by a good story well told. And it is solid proof that South Africans have big talent and even bigger hearts. Opening night ended with a well-deserved standing ovation, and afterwards over coffee people were excitedly comparing notes on their favourite parts of the show. Go find your favourite part.

Marilu Snyders

Undermined is showing at the Kalk Bay Theatre from 9 April to 3 May 2014.

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