In this gem of a show written by Lebogang Mphahlele and directed by Benjamin Bell, two innocent children (played by adults, one of whom is also the author of this play) try to make sense of the disturbing reality of the adult world around them. Who is the lion who terrorises one of the young boys while he hides in his room? Why does the other boy’s mother keep introducing him to a new Malume on a regular basis? (‘You have a lot of uncles,’ his friend remarks slyly. ‘How many is it now?’)
Mphahlele and fellow actor Thulani Mtsweni employ heaps of empathy in their portrayal of these young characters. There’s not a hint of condescension to be detected as they race around the stage making engine noises whilst using old tyres as cars. Instead, one is immediately and powerfully drawn into the wonderful world the two boys have created for themselves. When the two break out of the fantasy for brief moments to have arguments about the rules or what kind of car is superior to all others, it seems impossible for the audience not to smile knowingly at the performers’ earnest frowns, perhaps fondly remembering these same childhood disputes.
As the children become teenagers, the fault lines in their friendship begin to show. One has gone to boarding school and now speaks English only, enduring the inevitable ‘cheese boy’ moniker, whilst the other has remained at home, attending the local school and developing a definite interest in girls instead of academic work. Again, the actors do a stellar job of locating what makes these characters human and instantly relatable to a diverse audience.
The energy of the piece starts flagging in the third act, as the text is hampered by clunky, expository dialogue imbued with an unfortunate preachiness, and the touching realness of the first two acts all but disappears. This should not deter anyone from seeing the play, however, as the actors deliver masterful performances and the bloody thread running through the entire piece —the question of the abusive or absent father— has rarely been so sensitively and accessibly addressed on the local stage.
Kasi Stories: A Story Not Often Told can be seen as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival at Theatre Arts Admin on the 26th of September, at the Bindery Lab on the 27th and 28th of September, and at the Delft Black Box Theatre on the 29th and 30th of September.