Theatre review: Memory of how it feels

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

First published in the Cape Times 3 March 2011 – Watching a woman blossom in her destined career is a thing of beauty that elicits plenty of admiration.  This is what happens when the lithe Chuma Sopotela enters the stage.

Neo Muyanga has created a piece of theatre out of narration, dance, physical theatre and live music.    He calls it, ‘an hour-long poem for the stage’.  Three stories that were inspired by the Zulu practise of exchanging beads, encoded with secret messages between lovers, are narrated and expressed in the form of physical theatre on the stage.  The stage is surrounded by a live chamber orchestra which includes piano, violin, bass, viola and cello.  From the onset of the performance it is easy to feel a little discombobulated.  The action is frenetic, the characters and their motives feel rather abstract and disjointed.  The accompanying music is a delirious and wonderful fusion of African and European, the latter of which I learnt later is an Italian Madrigal which is a kind of secular vocal music composition written during the Renaissance era.  The madrigal was one of Neo Muyanga’s fields of study in Italy.  However, once you adjust yourself to the unusual sounds and sights and relax into the production, you will start discovering a rhythm which is not unlike a poem.  Throughout all three narratives abstract patterns and repetitive symbols slowly unfold.

Chuma Sopotela, who excelled in the striking and award-winning Karoo Moose, and Partly God, seems to be growing more radiant with every production.  Her beautiful fluid body becomes the vessel through which she captures the various characters in the story.  Acting, dancing and frenetically charging into walls and the other actors, her actions are startling and evocative and at times disturbing. Under Ina Wichterich-Mogane’s direction, the performers’ bodies are battered in the telling of the story.  This is contemporary performance art at its best; thoroughly engaging and at times confusing and unsettling to watch.  A lot of pleasure also comes from watching the faces of audience members as the performers engage with them, almost nose to nose.

Apollo Ntshoko, Karoo Moose and Woyzeck, narrates most of the actions and just like Sopotela, he is fascinating to watch. Apart from his impressive physique, he also has an expressive face that he uses to the maximum to communicate irony, drama and love.  It is especially during the telling of the final tale of Antony and Cleopatra in a modern day setting, that Sopotela and Ntshoko’s magical energy fuses as the two lovers tell the ancient story of the incomprehensible differences between man and woman.

Andile Vellem’ dancing is equally provocative and challenging and it is hard to believe that he is deaf. He uses sign language and his body to add another few layers to the intricacy of the production.  Neo Muyanga’s music is provocative and abstract and reminds me of a music score to a complex art film.  Having a live chamber orchestra to accompany the action is simply a treat and soprano Anna Telford’s voice is a beautiful surprise addition.

As a whole the production appeals to me because of its esoteric beauty, its strangeness, its abstraction and the complete and utter dedication of the performers, writer and musicians.  Perhaps the first story line needs to be tightened somewhat. I do feel though that in order to enjoy this complex kind of production you need to try and clear your mind of preconceived ideas and judgement and let it simply wash over you. Don’t try too hard to understand what’s going on, or try to figure out what the writer is attempting to ‘say’ to you.  Perhaps we are so spoon fed with television’s linear and cookie cutter productions that we recoil in confusion when we are presented with such abstraction.  See it as an opportunity to take a peek into Neo Muyanga’s mind and then immerse yourself in the metaphors and let the beautify music remind of you of how it feels.

Tickets from Monday to Thursday are R120.  Fridays and Saturdays, R130. To book, call the Computicket call centre on 011 340 8000 or 083 915 8000. Or visit

Memory of How It Feels, Written and composed by Neo Muyanga. Directed by Ina Wichterich-Mogane. Lighting design by Patrick Curtis. Costume Design by Koos Marais. With Apollo Ntshoko, Chuma Sopotela, Andile Vellem and musicians Galina Juritz, Thandi Ntuli, Candice Martin, Benjamin Jephta, Anna Telford, Natalie Mason and Nicola du Toit. At The Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 19 March at 6:30pm. ASTRID STARK reviews.



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