Lancaster University had yet another works outing at the Dukes on the 28th September. Your correspondent is sure there were some people at the show who were not Lancaster University employees but that particular evening it did feel that they were very much in the minority. They were gathered to watch a performance by the Market Theatre from Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a five city English Tour. The play was ‘The Suitcase’ as developed by the company’s artistic director Sibongeleni James Ngcobo from a short story by Es’kia Mpphahlele. Based on a true story, the play tells the story of a newly married young couple (Timi and Namhla) who leave their rural village in 1950s South Africa, for the bright lights of Durban. With few savings and scant possessions and no work to be had Timi, brilliantly played by Siyabonga Thwala, starts to lose his moral compass. Desperate to provide for his pregnant wife he steals a suitcase not knowing what might be inside; an act which has frightening consequences.
On a wooden pallet in the centre of the stage stands a table, chair and a shelf. To one side of the pallet is a small wooden bench; to the other, a dustbin. The sprawling, hostile city that surrounds this one-room hub is brought to people-filled life by two ‘storytellers’, Molatlhegi Dube and Nhlanhla Lata. Timi’s route through the city circles the little room where Masasa Mbangeni’s Namhla tries to keep hope alive.
Hugh Masekela provided the perfect soundtrack to the piece – bright, jazz shaded with blues and echoes of hymns (a stunning live vocal trio and guitarist), which amplified the story’s scope.
This was one of a three night run at the Dukes and was a wonderful experience, evocative, visual, moving and full of sharply detailed performances, humour and deep humanity. Of course the relationship between the University and the Dukes is a symbiotic one but on nights such as these we should be very pleased, living in our small provincial city perched on the North West corner of England, that we have access to such high quality international theatre.