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Review by Courtney Thirtle
A Moment. A Hope. A Choice.
These three words set the tone of a story entrenched in laughter, desperation, atmosphere and tragedy. Delivered with authentic performances filled with integrity and grit, this is the story of the human desire to have better days.
Birthed in the renowned South African market theatre known as the ‘Theatre of the Struggle’, The Suitcase is set in the apartheid society of 1950’s South Africa and tells the story of a young newly married couple who leave their rural village and disapproving family for the city of Durban. Here, they hope to improve their lives for the better. Things don’t go to plan as Timi finds himself unemployed and desperate to provide for his pregnant wife. Clouded by his difficult times, when Timi sees a suitcase left on his bus, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to seize the moment – not when hope is right there in front of him. This one choice brings dramatic twists and heart-breaking turns.
This is the first UK tour of the show, allowing audiences across Northern England to appreciate a dramatic and tragic tale, which portrays the universal struggle of following a dream, and wishing for a better life. The play was created and directed by James Ngcobo who should be applauded for his exemplary writing. His artistic direction is performed gracefully by actors, who include Siyabonga Caswell Thwala as Timi Ngobese, Molatlhegi Desmond Dube as Mlotshwa, Masas Lindiwe Mbangeni as Namhla Ngobese and Nhlanhla John Lata as Pisto. They are accompanied on stage by guitarist Bhekisisa Sifiso Makhosonke Khoza and by splendid vocals from Gugulethu Shezi, Penelope Nomfundo Sambo and Nokukhanya Gugulethu Dlamini. They come together to produce an atmospheric and deeply moving performance of a story that has humanity and love at centre stage, in the spotlight and at the forefront.
Everyone’s performances were mighty in strength, believability and integrity, bringing to life the 1950’s South African city, which appeared right before my eyes. The chemistry between Thwala and Mbangeni was so apparent and believable that it almost felt rude to be intruding in their domestic scenes. Ironically though, at the times of Timi’s drudgery and increasing despair, you wanted to do the opposite and reach out and help him. The production is rich with its pulse of beautiful simplicity, yet it is filled to the brim with powerful emotions. The stunning entanglement of music composed by Hugh Masekela truly ‘enhances the story and takes the narrative further’, as James Ngcobo said himself.
When the lights come on and the applause commences you realise, and quite rightly so, that this story of desperation and the struggle of the individual, is one that you won’t forget.
‘Nothing supposed to be easy when it comes to the injustice of humanity’
This is a line taken from Hull-based grime artist Chiedu Oraka’s commissioned piece to celebrate the UK tour of The Suitcase and it couldn’t ring truer. Today, when the nature of humanity can be brought into question and the politics of societal thinking can be ignorant, Timi’s story is one that needs to be shared, and enjoyed, and felt, so that it can inspire and stimulate and be celebrated as the universal piece of art that it is.
A theatrical, cultural gift that is charming and yet very real, a little bit of South Africa packed in a suitcase and gifted to us in fine fashion.