Till Death: Tell it on the mountain

Segametsi Mogoera and Mlungisi Tshobeka play in the Pacofs production, Till Death.

The tradition of male circumcison within South African cultures has come under a lot of scrutiny of late. Every July and December season the media report on injuries, amputations, and deaths that occur ‘on the mountain’, and a number of theatre productions and movies are interrogating the issue, as well as the expectations of being a man in a shifting contemporary society.

The Market Theatre Laboratory’s Marose, which involves a woman going undercover on a fictional boot-camp for men, took the best production award at the National Arts Festival Student Theatre Festival this year, and the controversial movie The Wound asks similar questions about manhood, sexuality, and tradition.

It is a subject the Pacofs incubator programme graduates delve into through their production Till Death. It is also the only drama work within a programme of ensemble productions, musicals and dance performances presented by the six publicly funding performing arts institutions (PAIs) at the Arts Incubators’ Trade Fair which has been happening at the Market Theatre precinct this week. The programme culminates in a back-to-back showing of the eight performances on the Market Theatre’s stages tomorrow (Saturday 22 Sept).

Till Death adds to the discussion on gender roles and expectations with a well devised two-hander written by Mlungisi Tshobeka, who also plays the swaggering character of Moleketsi, who is married to Nompumelelo, played by Segametsi Mogoera.

Mlungisi’s script, which turns on what happens to Nompumelelo’s young son Thabo – whose existence remains offstage – contains all the essential elements of a riveting drama: there is a secret haunting Moleketsi, the details of which neither we nor his wife of four years is privy, although we know a little bit more than she does, and it follows the dramatic arc of confrontation, revelation, and final resolution. The acting also adopts the classic realism mode, and, although Mlungisi and Segametsi provide solid performances, diverging from the stringencies of this mode of performance could benefit the play.

Partly this has to do with the realist rigidity of the set which, because there is no set designer involved, inhibits the flow of dialogue and action. Either the budget needs to be found to create the necessary fully realistic set, or, probably a better option, would be to study the tenets of Poor Theatre and strip it back. This would necessitate director John Paka making some changes but may free up the pace, which is restricted in parts.

Nevertheless, this Pacofs team, which includes stage manager Mokalake Johannes, have created a solid, topical work, proving that they are names to watch out for. Which is why the Arts Incubator programe exists, and their work can only get more nuanced as they gain experience.

Till Death is performed again tomorrow (Saturday 22 Sept) on the Market Theatre’s Mannie Manim stage at 17h15. Click here for bookings and more information on the Arts Incubators’ Trad Fair showcase.

Peformers: Segametsi Mogoera and Mlungisi Tshobeka

Writer: Mlungisi Tshobeka

Director: John Paka

Stage manager: Mokalake Johannes

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