Gogo – a play made in England and South Africa

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, rehearsals continue 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. Part two.

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10 Comments Add Yours

  1. John Huddart

    Lovely images – the rehearsal shots filled with the unspoken narrative of eyes and expressions, and the colour ones with inner light – such riches!

    Wish I could get my browser to play the pictures in full screen!

    • Sylvia Selzer

      Thanks for your perceptive and kind comments, John.
      I would like the images to fill the screen like the ones on the home page – the ‘killer shots’ as my webmaster calls them but sadly the platform the site uses will not support them. I hope eventually to sort this. Aaah! Time.
      In the meantime, I think I might load a few more killer shots on the home page slideshow. Thanks for this

  2. the pink bald one in the shots

    Happy memories! Great to see Sylvia. Joe xx

    • Sylvia Selzer

      Ha ha ha! The pinkness was probably caused by the wedding party beer! Can’t comment on the baldness – likely t’was too big a brain…
      Great times and great work, Joe! Would that we could do it all again. All of the visits were life-changing and inspirational.xx

  3. Gail Young

    A thought provoking and beautiful photographic account of the development of an original piece of drama, and featuring the work of the innovative Action Transport Theatre Company. Thanks Sylvia

    • Sylvia Selzer

      Thanks Gail. Yes, ATT has been responsible for some cracking work over the years. I feel so privileged to have been part of it. The visits to Africa were life-changing and I made good friends for life. Also gave me great photo opportunities! Good luck with your shiny new website – http://www.gailyoungplaywright.com

  4. John Chapman

    Hello Sylvia
    Once again a series of evocative and explanatory photographs beautifully taken. I must be fortunate viewing on my iPad as the photos expand to full screen with no appreciable loss of quality.

    • Sylvia Selzer

      This is great, John, that you can view the images full screen on your iPad. Unfortunately, as I explained to my friend John Huddart – a great photographer himself – the platform used for the site is not able to support full screen except in the home page. An iPad is a great way round the problem. Thanks! Glad you like the photos, too!

  5. Naomi Cortes

    Hi Sylvia, one of your biggest fans here. Lovely memories captured with your creativity and love of the subject. Well done again “Love it!”

    • Sylvia Selzer

      Little did I realise going to Africa again, that David and I would make a new friend for life in you, Naomi and eventually your not-even-met-yet lovely husband, Lawrence. It was such a creative and joyous visit and one that left its imprint on our hearts. Thank you Joe Sumsion for a flash of brilliance in the making of the project and Fikekahle Ntinti Dialisa for arranging life-changing experiences! I hope these photos reflect that joy.

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