It is an intellectual madhouse in the rehearsal room for Athol Fugard’s Nongogo, directed by James Ngcobo. As the captain of this zany ship, Ngcobo (top right) is fixated on the poetic tones of Fugard’s dialogue, especially the part in which one of the characters says, “All I can give to my child is a name,” because he doesn’t have any means to offer the child anything else.
The audiences for this show will be in good company with the cast comprising Hollywood made man Fana Mokoena (the existential theorist in the group); film and television actor and director Tony Kgoroge (the muscle); Masasa Mbageni (the sleepwalker); Hamilton Dlamini (Woza Albert) and TV and stage star Desmond Dube.
“I believe that you grow as a director when you work with brilliant actors,” says Ngcobo of his ensemble.
“I’m still honing my voice as a director and there is no better way of doing that than having actors who have been around the block, who are award winners and who are approaching the work in an amazing way. We have beautiful discussions about the era in which this piece is based in. We have discussions about why we are doing it in 2013 and what value it has today. I always felt that Ngongo was a love story and in a very clever way, Athol Fugard manages to not mention apartheid.”
Set in an era where apartheid was being brutally formalised, Nongogo tells the tale of displaced township individuals who are gripped by a futile longing to belong and be loved. Each character represents a certain brokenness. Characters include Johnny, the itinerant salesman; Queenie, the reformed hooker trying to make good in her new career as a shebeen queen; Sam, the tyrant and pimp who is crippled by his jealousy at Queenie and Johnny’s promising romance; and Sam, whose physical disabilities mirror his broken spirit.
Mbangeni has always wanted to play the role of Queenie and she is utterly immersed in the role. “I find that playing this character has possessed me,” Mbangeni says.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night to get water and I find myself saying lines but I’m half asleep. So it’s a possession of some sort, but a beautiful one.” Kgoroge has not been on stage for two years and his character requires him to be soft, but he brings his own personal touch to it. “They usually present my character as a gay person because of his behaviour,” says Kgoroge.
“But I don’t think he is gay; it’s just that he was abused as a child. He definitely has a feminine side to him, so I brought some masculinity to him to add to his soft and gentle nature.” World War Z actor Mokoena reckons that the cycle of life never changes and that is why that this play remains relevant today.
“There is a set of patterns in life that we go through,” he explains. “We go through the same patterns but haphazardly, so things always happen and as an actor the craft has taught me that some things are universal and timeless like this play. It is the repetitiveness of live and history.”