Phitlho (The Hidden): Uncover this Gem

Cast of Phitlho (The Hidden)

A family’s secrets. A family’s shame. Show me a home with no skeletons in the closets and I’ll ask you what trickery is this.

Phitlho (The Hidden) is about such a family. The relationships have broken down. Alliances perpetuate the household feuds. And of course sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes understandable.

A young mother has given birth… but the grandparents of the new baby have a lungful to say about this little life’s arrival. Grandfather is not happy. Grandmother insists on loving the child no matter the circumstances: “he is our blood”, she pleads.

And then we are immersed after a noticeable shift in tone. All the performers remain still, then in unison the players place their masks on; as they do so, their bodies transform. Where once stood a group of twenty-somethings now stands the bent gogos, a rigid household head, a toppling tippler, a withdrawn woman.

An eerily unsettling atmosphere sets in and prevails throughout, although there are several comic moments which burst through and generate guffaws from the crowd.

Because of the wonderful ambiguity and potential readings available in non-verbal work… Phitlho (The Hidden) is open to interpretation. Without having read the programme note specifying the nature of the family’s secret, the child becomes symbolic of all that which so-called civilised (or religious?) society deems ‘unpalatable’.

A child out of wedlock? Oh dear. The boy-child playing with dolls? Scandalous. A drunk in the family? Sssshhh. A sister in prison? Eyes grow wide. Infidelity? Money troubles? Straying from the good lord’s house?

People in glass houses and all that.

A quirky soundtrack helps channel our understanding of the mood of the scenes, although we don’t need to rely on it. The adept performers – all AFDA JHB postgraduates – have taken ownership of their roles and settled into these characters, so through their body language and action we easily follow the plot. I’d encourage some crisper, cleaner, stiller moments in some places, and perhaps less reliance on their pointing. They’re clearly creative enough to come up with solutions when needing to indicate ‘there’ or ‘go’.

These young theatre-makers who devised the work, under the expert eye of Rob Murray, have delivered a smart, brave, enjoyable, and touching piece. Our audience made a lot of noise – the good kind! – and was engaged throughout. So trusting the almost-full house, I’d say this one’s a goodie.

Phitlho (The Hidden) is next on today at 15.00 at Glennie Hall. Schedule, performance details, and bookings: click here.

Devised and performed by: Kuena Khama, Ipelegeng Leepile, Hlobile Makukule, Lehloanyane Mohapi, Koketso Motlhabane, Bathabile Ngxingweni, Maboroko Ramusi, Sebenzile Sibiya, and Jaco Van Zyl.
Facilitator and Director: Rob Murray
Choreographer: With thanks to Vamos Theatre (UK)
Featured Artists: Masks: Strangeface
Company: AFDA JHB

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