An already flourishing partnership between Cheshire-based ACTION TRANSPORT THEATRE and Soweto’s VULAVULANI THEATRE COMPANY took an interesting turn in 2006 with the writing of Kevin Dyer’s children’s play GOGO.
On previous visits to Soweto, ATT’s artistic director Joe Sumsion had been drawn to the power of the extended family and, in particular, the role of the gogo – grandmother. Joe and Kevin spent time in Soweto with VULAVULANI’S artistic director/actor Fikekahle ‘Ntinti’ Dlalisa and Kevin was commissioned to write a play. Ntinti, together with actor Sizwe Vilakazi, came to the UK to develop the script. Joe’s idea was to give the script authenticity by developing it further in South Africa and so returned to Soweto.
The premise of the play is the story of two young children living in the city being sent to the country to stay with their gogo following family problems. The gogo is a fearsome character. A widow, living alone deep in the country away from the comforts of the city, she is determined that the children should understand that life is not to be handed to them on a plate and sets about teaching the life skills they will need to survive in their new home.
Rehearsals started straight away on arrival in Soweto. Ntinti and Sizwe were joined by actor Evelyn (Evha) Nteso from Johannesburg and London based actor Naomi Cortes. Ntinti and Evah were to play the children, Sizwe the dog/cow/gorilla and Naomi, Gogo.
A number of local musicians and a teacher of traditional dance added another dimension to the production. They were choreographer Thabang Mpooa, musician Fannie Chauke, drummer Thapelo Kutoane ‘Moss’ and PR Kgotso Moleko
Joe was keen to pursue authenticity for this production and, after discussion with Ntinti, decided that a visit to a country location would be valuable. Ntinti arranged for the company to stay with relatives in Kwazulu-Natal for two days. His aunt, with whom he had stayed as a boy, was to be our hostess. Five hours drive from the city and we were in a spectacular and quite different landscape. With no electricity or running water we were to experience, for a few days, a life that was both simple and challenging.
Soon after arriving, we were met by a group of local women, traditional dancers including many gogos, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. At night, we shared our lamplit supper with the family. There followed what can only be described as a spiritual experience in the Ancestors’ House across the yard. We saw the Ancestors’ resting place the next morning – next to the house.
During our weekend stay, we were introduced to traditional methods of farming – including Ntinti’s milking lesson. We had a spirit meeting with a sangoma (a traditional healer), met a formidable gogo – who instructed Naomi and Evah in the making of a dung floor – and her grandchildren. We met wedding guests enjoying their meal at the side of the road and a ninety-three year old gogo out on her daily walk.
Rehearsals, held in the yard, were afforded a fantastic backdrop and natural sound effects. Our visit ended with a long walk to visit a neighbour’s new calves – and another milking lesson!
Back in Soweto and rehearsals begin with renewed enthusiasm – and insight!
The next, and final step was for the company to rehearse in the UK and tour the completed GOGO nationally.
To be continued in the next posting…