AT first glance, it seemed like a normal Sunday afternoon at The Little Theatre – but soon the dimmed lights and strong colours of the stage draw you into what promised to be an art house experience. The Veil, a play by Zwai Mgijima, transports you with its simple execution and complex content. At first the set strikes you. Easily done with chalk drawings on the floor, the simplicity does not take away the meaningful message portrayed by the actors’ performances. However a more detailed set   was needed to give the crowed more of a visual connection.

One thing I have come to realize is that with African Theatre a level of depth is actually added through minimalism, afterall, we are not dealing with Shakespeare, where detailed sets are a priority.  . The Veil included two strategic props, tin buckets, used to symbolise Ali (Anele Penny) and Nosipho’s (Zinathi Ngcwangu), hearts. Each bucket housed a small light representing the life – and love – pulsating in their hearts. The sweet sounds of guitar music by Ludwe Mkhulubhane over the script bought on a very ethereal environment on stage that soaked you into the romance and set a very soft tone throughout the Performance.

Ali opens the powerful play by telling the audience the story of his trek from Somalia to South Africa. He further explains how his fellow brethren expressed that he ought to forget about his home country Somalia and how South Africa is the “promised land.” That line moved me, considering the current xenophobic attacks in South African and this elusion our society holds onto that African foreign nationals don’t belong here. Refuges flee their own countries to live in fear in another.

Is South Africa really a “promised land” for African foreign nationals? The Veil, through its protagonist, Ali, interrogates this very question. Ali takes center stage as he expresses how ‘Savanah” is their latest cigarette invention due its cheap pricing and popularity.  I was in stiches throughout the performance and the realism attached to the script. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of buying from a Somali shop will recognise the familiarity of the script, instantly connecting with the kind of banter you would experience.

We are later introduced to Nosipho, who arrives greeted by Ali in her mother tongue, isiXhosa, and is impressed that he was able to connect with her in her own language. The two continue in conversation getting to know each other, therebytightening their cross border relationship slowly taking it to the next level – bound by their genuine love for each other. Ali shares with Nosipho the darkness of his experiences in Somalia explicitly explaining why he had left Somalia and came to South Africa hoping for a better life.

Overall, The Veily centres around one mans hope for the better in a foreign place and his own personal journey which leaves him torn between his religion and culture, the love of his beloved Nosipho, mother of his unborn child  and the longing for acceptance. Both actors are luminous in their own way. Ngcwangu, makes her first appearance on stage as a professional. Though her timing and execution needs some finesse, she is indeed a young woman to pay attention to. At times she was not audible, but she managed to bring the character to life.

Penny on the other hand, remains the seasoned actor and continues to prove his worth in every role he takes on. . He’s ability to bring out strong emotions on stage and draw the audience to him, forces us to visualize and walk the journey with his character.

Acclaimed director Zwai Mgijima has thought about the detail.  Where the simplicity of his set and its flat surface challenges us to imagine and visualise the setting, the powerful content seems to fill the stage making up for its starkness. Mgijima has managed beautifully put together a piece filled with much thought provoking realism.

I encourage you to see this production when it is on again. It will make you fall in love with local theatre again and open your eyes to the everyday right before you, right now.


Review by Sibongile Sontsonga