Itsoseng

Omphile Molusi
Soho Theatre
(2008)

Production photo

Itsoseng is a township in South Africa, formerly part of the bantustan or homeland of Bophuthatswana set up in 1972 by the apartheid government who placed the corrupt and tyrannical Kgosi Lucas Mangope at the head of its government. In 1994, thirteen-year-old Omphile Molusi, who had been raised by his grandmother, moved there to live with his mother. That was the year that the apartheid regime gave way to democratic elections, when the ANC won 62% of the votes and the freed Nelson Mandela was elected president.

Mangope resisted the reincorporation of Bophuthatswana into South Africa and as elections came near its people rose against him, destroying properties that he had built, among them the shopping centre at the heart of Itsoseng. It is in the middle of that destroyed shopping centre, ten years later, that Molusi sets his play. In it a young man called Mawilla, whose mother used to work there as at a store cash desk, tells his story. Molusi himself plays Mawilla - and all the other characters he introduces - in a monologue that expresses the frustrations of a township where the new South Africa has failed to bring new life, where the shopping centre is still a burned out wasteland, where young men 'matriculate from high school to do drugs and alcohol.' He gives us a passionate account of the local situation, of unemployment, of the emptiness of revolutionary politics that seemed to offer 'free everything' but didn't deliver, of the failure of government to tackle their problems, and he tells us of is love for his childhood sweetheart Dolly, now driven to prostitution, a love which touchingly pervades the whole performance.

Molusi's performance has a vitality and a physicality that stops this from being depressing. Mawilla is made to actively express his feelings, not wallow in negativity, but Molusi could afford to drop the pace more often for, when he does, he can be extremely moving as well as engaging. The name Itsoseng means 'wake yourselves up' and this is a stirring performance which aims to wake up its audience to the story its writer-performer tells.

Director Tina Johnson has staged it very simply on a bare stage except for piles of rubbish, using some of it and pieces of cloth and clothing from the metal trunk that Mawilla drags with him on stage to help suggest some of the other characters in the story or make a sort of shrine to Dolly. Strangely, for something so directly and straightforwardly presented it is marred by frequent and I thought ill-judged and unnecessary changes of lighting state which do not help the actor. Perhaps there was some technical problem on opening night for they sometimes seemed badly timed and left the actor unhelpfully unlit, but Molusi's performance was strong enough to hold the audience despite such distraction.

Until 27th September 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton