Oxford University Press has come out with three new South African playscripts

| September 22, 2010

At her Feet: the playscript – by Nadia Davids
96 pages
ISBN: 978-0-19-599254-0

Cissie: the playscript – by Nadia Davids
128 pages
ISBN: 978-0-19-599014-0

Itsoseng: the playscript – by Omphile Molusi
96 pages
ISBN: 978-0-19-599125-3

Two – Cissie and At her Feet – are by Nadia Davids. The third in the Literature for Southern Africa series is Itsoseng, by Omphile Molusi. It’s a good time for theatre in this
country. New playhouses are being built (for example, the Athol Fugard Theatre in Cape Town), and events like the National Arts Festival and Klein Karoo National Arts Festival are proving to be fertile nurseries for young artists.

Plays a good way to examine history

However, the old maxim holds true: the theatre is where a nation interrogates its memories, and though they are young, each of the three aforementioned playwrights
has chosen to explore aspects of South Africa’s history. Molusi has the courage to examine post-apartheid struggles against the backdrop of a fairly typical dusty township. In Cissie, Davids presents the life of Cape Town activist Cissie Gool, while At her Feet gives voice to six South African Muslim women of different ages.

Pupils often complain that they’re tired of studying our tumultuous history, and this is where quality playscripts can often prove useful. The medium injects energy into the classroom under the guidance of a skilled teacher; students can get out from behind their desks and really get to grips with character and context. By necessity plots are condensed, so there’s literally no time for pupils to get bored. On the contrary, they’re bound to feel compelled by a range of emotions and issues that, while qualified by history, still resonate in their own communities.

All three plays consider similar themes

Cissie is the most conventional in form of the trio, in that a full cast takes the audience through Gool’s life – from the childhood coloured by politics to her intensely public adult life (she was the first ‘non-European’ woman in the Union of South Africa to become a City Councillor). Still, it’s a play that uses ‘unconventional’ techniques to maintain audience engagement like poetry.

Itsoseng owes a great deal to the rich heritage of South African protest theatre. As I read, I was constantly reminded of the classic Woza, Albert!. Molusi uses physical theatre to offset somewhat depressing subject matter: in the desolate township of Itsoseng, an angry mob protests a lack of social progress, in the process burning down
the only shopping centre; meanwhile, the central character’s love interest, Dolly, is forced by poverty into an early grave.

Having seen At her Feet (a onehander performed by Quanita Adams), I was able to respond to the written text in a particularly meaningful way. It’s a play about responses from women of the same faith, but different generations, to an honour killing in Jordan.

Extension activities provided, but ‘the play’s the thing’

As in each play in the series, in this play, the At her Feet script is supported with class work; essentially everything a teacher could want and learners could need. There’s commentary from renowned author Gabeba Baderoon, an interview with the playwright herself, pre-reading activities, comprehension questions and answers (also for First Additional Language learners), discussion and essay questions, teacher’s notes, a background to the play, character analysis, a synopsis, and a summary of the themes.

However, this is a play, and I remember admiring in performance the melding of the playwright’s imagination with the performer’s artistry at the heartbreaking climax. A
few simple theatrical techniques – a focused, coloured spotlight, a headscarf on a single player – transport the reader/viewer to another dimension. Let your learners strive to experience that magic.

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Category: Book Reviews, Spring 2010 Edition

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