attended the third and final night of the N.P.F. and watched three play readings; the accent is on the development of story line, character and dialogue and, with a limit of 15 minutes, needs to capture the essence of the play. The playwrights present a synopsis, a list of characters, a brief explanation of stage setting and they read the stage directions. Students read the parts; this is followed by an open discussion forum when the playwright can answer questions and respond to comments.
The session I attended started with a work by Sifanelesibonge Mtshali, entitled The Silence, which refers to the silence surrounding the abuse of young girls in their own homes. Jabu is almost thirteen years old when her step father hits on her. Much is made of the fact that Jabu means ‘happy’ yet how can this young girl be happy when she is caught in a helpless situation in which she has no defences and no champions? Mtshali approached the familiar subject matter with mature sensitivity and used an interesting dramatic device to symbolise the intimate relationship between Jabu and her stepfather. When the alcoholic mother discovers them in an embrace she blames her daughter and pushes her out of the house saying that while Jabu is a survivor, she herself is weak and needs the support of her husband. The dialogue was convincing and the plot moving; the device successfully rendered. The Silence is a strong and important piece of work well worth developing into a full-length play.
Noluvuyo Solakhe’s play As the World Turns revolves around a young woman who has rejected her husband, an older man who was chosen for her by her father for financial reasons, and discovered love with another man. She is pregnant and is uncertain as to who is the father of her unborn child. The strongest character in the play is The Figure, who is her late mother, her ancestor. The Figure comments and advises as her daughter and her friend discuss the situation; her presence creates a tension dynamic that lifts the play into a new realm. There are some well-placed surprises and a good sense of plot development. Work is needed on the dialogue, but the principles are sound and the play was intriguing.
The final offering was The Door by Thembalethu Professor Nqumako, a young man with an unusual mind and a capacity for a comedic approach to a serious situation. The Door is a farce at one level and drew much laughter from the audience; it also makes some searing comments about human behaviour. A beautiful young woman, who is married, entertains young men and cleans them out of their possessions. A nearby tramp, in essence the physical embodiment of the secret she hides from her husband, makes outrageous comments and acts the noble fool. Nqumako has a fine sense of timing and a gift for physical theatre; these ingredients made for good viewing that not only created an opportunity for laughter, but also more sober realisations around the disintegrating morals of our society.
The open forum at the end of each play reading was lively and interactive; this served the playwrights well as they could get a sense of how successfully they had conveyed their ideas. It was heartening to see three burgeoning playwrights bring their ideas to the stage and to know that, as the theatre practitioners of the future, they will be equipped to create their own works, giving them an independent edge in the industry.