Omphile Molusi @ Space Theatre
2:00pm, Sat 2 Mar 2013
As I’ve written many times before, matinées are like gold-dust at Festival time; this afternoon performance of Itsoseng was doubly attractive, given the short Q&A session with writer/performer Omphile Molusi beforehand. And despite the autobiographical nature of the performance, Molusi presents himself very differently to his character portrayal – quietly spoken and contemplative, he was always ready to delve into detail about his upbringing and career… but when he was asked the inspiration for Itsoseng – his now deceased friend that lives on in the play as Dolly – he became very, very guarded. I don’t know whether it was still an (understandably) emotional maelstrom, or whether he was protecting the patrons who would see the play later that day, but the clamming shut was very obvious.
We leave the Space after the Q&A session and return less than an hour later to find the stage dusted with sand and littered with trash, several pathways evident through the debris. We start late due to two older patrons who thought it’d be a great idea to nip outside to the bar for a drink just as the first-call buzzer was sounding; the germ of grumpiness that formed as a result was almost immediately dispelled when I discovered that there would be an Auslan interpreter during the performance (I love me some Auslan action).
Molusi enters the stage, and there’s hints of frustration in his actions; he is Mawilla, a young South African man returning to his home township of Itsoseng, only to find it in ruin and despair; the passing of the apartheid era has not had a positive impact on the community. He’s back to see his family, and the woman he adores; but societal changes have not been kind to any of his familiars, and his beloved Dolly’s path through life – a desperate, ruinous path – is more tragic than most.
Itsoseng‘s rhythms are odd: Molusi focusses on minutia, delicately painting vivid pictures through his dialogue, before skipping comparatively quickly over the human interactions that provide the backbone of the performance. And it is a lovely, touching tale… Mawilla’s love for Dolly is tangible, and the frustration he feels as a result of his inability to help her is raw. But the script is punctuated by almost orthogonal fractures where Molusi openly criticises the slow-moving and corrupt nature of South African politics; pertinent points, yes, but not at the expense of character development.
But the core story is still solid, and Molusi’s performance is headstrong and proud… though his accent threw me more than once, and I could’ve sworn Dolly was named Doo-lee. And I’m pretty certain he dropped into one of the other native languages of South Africa at several points… but I was too busy trying to discern the dialogue for myself to look at how the Auslan interpreter was coping. But the feeling of fragmentation and distraction within the script is hard to shake; I can’t help but think that cutting ten minutes of repeated political grandstanding would make this a much stronger piece.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 2, 2013