On Thursday 7 September, 50 alumni and guests took advantage of a discounted ticket offer for alumni to attend a performance of The Suitcase by Johannesburg based company, Market Theatre. Attendees enjoyed a wine reception and the opportunity to network with university staff prior to the performance.
Director James Ngcobo’s stage adaption of Es’kia Mphahlele’s 1954 short story, The Suitcase is a UK premiere for Hull Truck and forms part of the Freedom Festival programming for 2017.
The pace is leisurely at first, and although the opening scene signals trouble ahead, the first half of the play portrays the innocence and unfettered ambition of Timi and Namhla (Siyabonga Thwala and Massasa Mbangeni) as they travel from their rural backwater to the heart to the heart of the city – alighting at Durban station like the first men on the moon.
The atmospheric lighting and decked setting also give the production an intimate and homely feel, but underlying this apparent gentleness is a troubling sense that the dark metropolis is about to encroach on all sides. Eventually this will overpower any capacity that our couple have to hope and dream and will manifest physically in Timi’s declining posture which seems to buckle under the crushing weight of unemployment and growing estrangement from his wife. Almost doubled over, Timi is suddenly presented with an opportunity for salvation and puts his reputation and his liberty on the line in order to pursue it.
The Suitcase is both gentle and savage. It undoubtedly oozes charm, the central characters Timi and Namhla (Siyabonga Thwala and Massasa Mbangeni) are utterly convincing in their portrayal of requited love, mutual faith, hope and expectation. Likewise, Desmond Dube and Nhlanhla John Lata exude likeability and warmth across a range of supporting roles. This is backed by Hugh Maskela’s haunting and exquisite soundtrack which combines the languid jazz guitar of Bhekisisa Khoza with the pitch-perfect harmonies of Gugulethu Shezi, Penelope Nomfundo Sambo and Nokukhanya Gugulethu Dlamini. And yet, although the pace of the production allows for a gradual onset of disillusion, the twist when it comes, still feels like the twist of a knife. At this stage, a seemingly familiar tale of urban alienation reveals a capacity to shock, reminding the audience that this is not just any oppressive urban environment, this is apartheid-era South Africa – a particular place and time where desperate actions could be a rational response to eternal struggle and hardship.