Joke Silva and d'bi young anitafrika in Have You Seen Zandile

Thursday Theatre Review: Have You Seen Zandile?

The AfriCan Theatre Ensemble is mounting the Canadian premiere of "Have You Seen Zandile?" by South African playwright Gcina Mhlophe. It first caught my eye because one of the actors is d'bi young - a woman who I have seen several times on stage and have always been spellbound by.

But as I dug a bit further I became really interested in the show itself, not just the players. The website tells us that the play "... shows us facets of South African history, life and social values which have tended to be overshadowed by the charged politics of South Africa's apartheid and post-apartheid eras by utilising an accessible story-line, dialogue, music, dance and storytelling from an authentic African cultural context."

This is the part where I should tell you that I haven't seen the show yet. Sometimes with smaller productions it's hard to line up the timing to see it in time to review it. But this show has interested me so much that I couldn't just let it go. So, I spoke to Modupe Olagun, the artistic director of AfriCan Theatre Ensemble, so that I could get a bit of a perspective of the show as an audience member (albeit a biased one, but that's okay).

About the show itself she told me that it ran the gambit of emotions, that in parts it is sad, and in parts she found herself giggling. I asked her what kind of an audience it has been attracting, if this was the kind of show that I could take my Grandmother and we'd both enjoy it. She told me that the audience has been filled with all sorts of colours, accents and age ranges. The age range so wide that it has run from young children around 5 years old, to people in their 80s. So, the show has a wide appeal.

The show follows Zandile and her grandmother. Zandile is a creative young child and lives her life full of imagination until one day when a white car comes to take her away. The kidnapped girl is forced into a new routine of rules calculated to turn her into a "traditional and proper" woman. Zandile's and her grandmother look for each other and long to be reunited. It sounds heavy, and it certainly isn't fluff, but I am assured that there are refreshing moments, moments of lightness and laughter.

A story that she told me, which you won't see on stage, but bares repeating, was of working with the cultural consultant they brought in to help create a more authentic South African experience. One day Modupe came across the consultant watching quietly and Modupe asked her what was wrong. She answered "Nothing is wrong. I am feeling South Africa. That is home, that is my South Africa" For Modupe it was not just a demonstration that they'd captured the right feel, but also a reminder that home is not necessarily a physical place, she told me "home is where feeling resonate for us."

I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, maybe I'll see you there?

- "Have You Seen Zandile?" is at Equity Showcase Theatre (651 Dufferin St.) from February 7 to 9, 2008.
- Performances begin at 8pm, with an additional afternoon performance at 2:30pm on Saturday
- Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for Students and Children, and $15 for Seniors and groups of three or more.

Photo of Joke Silva and d'bi young anitafrika by Greg King

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