College of Human Sciences

If The Suit fits…

21 June 2017 marked the birthday of the legendary Can Themba. And in the College of Human Sciences’ spirit of unravelling the embedded solution of social problems and upholding authentic African literature, it hosted a discussion on the play based on Can Themba’s short story, The Suit, together with the Market Theatre Foundation.

Siphiwo Mahala (playwright), Natalia Molebatsi (Unisa Library), James Ngcobo (Artistic Director: Market Theatre Foundation), Prof Puleng Segalo (Head: Research and Graduate Studies, CHS), and Ismail Mahomed (CEO: Market Theatre Foundation)

The Suit, as it was described by programme director Natalia Molebatsi, “is a story of love, commitment, Sophiatown swag; a story that speaks to a number of issues often avoided by civil society, all of which are wrapped up in one book”. And to dissect and unpack this composition was a panel headed by Market Theatre Artistic Director and actor James Ngcobo, who directed the latest production of The Suit. Ngcobo explained that his idea was to present this classic play in a way that would have the audience immensely involved in the story, and that informed his selection of artists, style, and production. Ngcobo added that his approach was based on bravely positioning this classic play into the contemporary space and inviting the audience into that collaborative space as an engaged part of the play.

Following Ngcobo was Siphiwo Mahala, playwright and currently a Unisa doctoral student with Can Themba as his research focus. Mahala’s journey with The Suit started in 2002 when he was doing his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and he wrote a story that in many ways was said to be similar to The Suit. He then said he was compelled to read The Suit for a number of times trying to establish the regarded similarity to his story. And from his fascination with the story, Mahala said he realised that there was an opportunity for the continuation of that story and eventually ended up writing The Suit continued.

The third panellist was Prof Puleng Segalo from the Office of Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Human Sciences. She highlighted that having seen the play before in the early 90s, in James Ngcobo’s production she was seized by the idea of how his production tells the story of the character Matilda. She said it revealed the misconception of how the African woman is perceived, how they are judged and not allowed to dream and have desires. She added that it was very refreshing to see that a production that actually gave the African woman a voice.

The story, set in Sophiatown, speaks to ways in which narratives of remembering and survival are carved. The play further engages the perpetual struggles of living under a system that relegated some people to the zone of non-being. Some of the broad issues to be reflected upon, include, but are not limited to: A Sophiatown that provokes questions around the physiological and psychological wellbeing of a community under the abuses of apartheid, marriage, infidelity and the notion of masculinity and femininity, and dreams deferred (yearning for what was lost/given up/taken away).

*By Katlego Pilane

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