Isango Portobello makes magicFiona Gordon
Fiona Gordon: Isango Portobello’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo, is a magical cultural mix.
This is a (musical) play about the struggles of the working class in South Africa in the 1950s. It’s not the easiest thing to be a ‘whitey’ in this audience, and yet I found myself thinking (and my thinking confirmed in subsequent conversation with other patrons) that it’s a show that should be seen by everyone!
Music is most certainly a universal language, and using that as the successful base from which they can tell their stories, this multi-lingual, multi-talented company passes on the ideas of the group through songs and stories known to generations; presenting the facts, and asking its audience to consider things from a specific perspective, then draw their own conclusions.
Made up of vast cross-cultural and subtle political references, and many specific to this Mother City setting, the production is so layered it is virtually impossible to understand every reference. However, it is in this levelling of the playing field of understanding that much of the value lies. In acknowledging the traits of many worlds and creating a hybrid that speaks both to and of our new South Africa, Isango Portobello is developing a new theatre, for a new audience.
The text is based on an early twentieth century novel by Robert Tressell, adapted for this stage by Stephen Lowe, with musical direction by Pauline Malefane (who also plays Minnie) and Mandisi Dyantis, and directed by Mark Dornford-May. But for a production to really work, as this one does, it takes the input of many skilled practitioners. Design – of space and prop and costume and movement and puppets and lighting - is integrally considered, with clever subtle references, and the use of potentially extraneous stage areas all making a significant contribution to the successful execution of the whole.
A resident company has certain advantages in the creation and presentation of their work in their dedicated space. That advantage is fully employed in this staging, as trapdoors open and shut on and above the raked stage, and the ‘workers’, who are painters, do literally paint the walls of the space, through the progression of the plot.
Witty and clever, but delivered with consideration to clarity of understanding, and enjoyment, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo – seminal at the time of its publication, and yet no less significant in our current political climate - is a must-see, and plays Tuesdays to Saturdays at the Fugard Theatre until 20 November 2010.
Tickets start at R60, and although seating is unreserved, can be booked by calling the box office on 021 461 4554, or online at www.thefugard.com
The Fugard Theatre, Cnr of Harrington Street and Caledon Street District Six Cape Town Western Cape South Africa