REVIEW: Interrogating womanhood through performance art

Adriana Cuhna and Bulelwa Ndaba star in The Book of Shade, one of the performances shown on Thursday night. Photo: Robyn Kirk

Adriana Cuhna, right, and Bulelwa Ndaba, left, star in The Book of Shade, one of the performances in the Sex Actually Festival. Photo: Robyn Kirk

Just three actors in two full productions took to the stage earlier this evening to explore, illustrate and explain the various roles and identities of women in society.

As part of the Sex Actually Festival, a double bill of performances took place at the Wits Amphitheatre, featuring few actors and even fewer props. The first, The Book of Shade was created by, and starred, Adriana Cunha and Bulelwa Ndaba and directed by Tshego Khutsoane. The second King of Ghosts, was a one-man-show by Modisana Mabale.

Cuhna and Ndaba, in a relatively short piece, took the audience on a journey through the roles women play through their lives, and the relationships they share with one another.

From washing clothes in a tin basin, gossiping over another woman’s “looseness” with past lovers, exercise routines, and the reaction to sweet nothings whispered by a man on a date, the two talented actresses drew the audience in the familiar lives of everyday women.

The piece was devoid of dialog but the actresses conveyed the tensions of the lives of these women through movement that said more than words could.

The second performance of the night was Mabale’s King of Ghosts. Set in a graveyard, this piece tells the story of King Ubuntu and his struggle to rule his people and accept the heart of his gogo ancestor, in an allegorical play about patriarchy in African culture.

“child of my child, women rule with their hearts, men rule with their heads. I want you to use both.”

Mabale was a kinetic figure on stage, clad in simple black, moving ceaselessly, as he played a number of characters: King Ubuntu, the spirit of the king’s paternal grandmother, the soothsayer and the dutiful servant.

King of Ghosts saw a monarch’s struggle with accepting the heart given to him by the matriarchal character, and the weakness he believed this would cause. A clever allusion to the human condition was carried throughout the play in the form of the king’s advisor, Isintu (translated from Zulu as “humanity”).

The need of balance between the masculine and the feminine was at the heart of this play, summed up perfectly by the gogo as she beseeches Ubuntu to accept her heart as she utters the words “child of my child, women rule with their hearts, men rule with their heads. I want you to use both.”

Both pieces focused strongly on the subject of womanhood, a necessary realm of thought in a festival that hopes to discuss ideas around sexuality.

The Sex Actually Festival runs until August 30, and the double bill of The Book of Shade and King of Ghosts will take place again on Saturday August 23 at 1.30pm in the Wits Amphitheatre.