Playhouse Company revives Gibson Kente’s classic musical drama How Long?

After an absence of 45 years, Gibson Kente’s musical drama How Long? returns to the South African stage in a prestigious new production presented by The Playhouse Company, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture. The show will run in the Playhouse Opera Theatre from 5 to 27 May 2018.

     ‘It is fitting, as we salute Africa Month that we honour the memory of Gibson Kente, one of the formative figures of South Africa’s theatre scene,’ says Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Playhouse Company, Linda Bukhosini. ‘We at The Playhouse Company are proud to have assembled some of the best artists in our country. How Long? is directed by Duma Ndlovu, with choreography by Somizi Mhlongo and musical direction by Phelelani Mnomiya. The production stars, among others, Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Phindile Gwala, Khaya Dladla, Mondli Makhoba and Nqobile Ndlovu.
     ‘At the request of Duma Ndlovu, The Playhouse has commissioned the orchestration of Gibson Kente’s music which will feature a six-piece band and a 13-piece orchestra ensemble, thus ensuring a musical collaboration among artists of different races groups. This highlights the importance of making social cohesion and nation building a practical reality, thus encouraging a positive narrative of common artistic experiences among people of different racial groups,’ says Bukhosini.
     A melodramatic musical play with political undertones in Gibson Kente’s famous township theatre style, the work is based on the death of Khulu, a helpless grandmother, through brutal police action under apartheid bureaucracy. Kente wrote the play as a response to pressure from Black Consciousness structures that all cultural work needed to reflect the material conditions of black people in South Africa. Kente rose to the occasion and How Long? exploded in township halls and the black masses responded. The play was later banned and Kente was imprisoned as a direct result. Part of a trilogy of the only political plays by Kente, the work was written and last performed in 1973 before it was banned.
     ‘Gibson Kente was a man who generously shared his wisdom and his theatre expertise with younger actors privileged to work under him,’ says Ndlovu. ‘In this regard, he helped launch the careers of South African icons such as Darlington Michaels, Mbongeni Ngema, Sello Maake KaNcube and Brenda Fassie. Shortly before he died in 2002, Gibson Kente entrusted me with the responsibility of representing his music. To this end, in 2004 I was instrumental in the Gibson Kente Foundation coming into being,’ continues Ndlovu.
     ‘As the custodian of the Gibson Kente Foundation, it is my honour to keep Bab Kente’s legacy alive, and I am excited to be directing this masterpiece, The Playhouse Company’s new production of How Long?.’

How Long? Playhouse Company
How Long? stars from left: Khaya Dladla, Mlamli Ningiza, Thembi Mtshali, Lungelo Ndlovo, Phindile Gwala and Mondli Makhoba PHOTO Val Adamson

     Himself one of the brightest lights on South Africa’s cultural landscape for many years, Ndlovu is internationally renowned as a playwright, director and executive producer, working in the fields of film, television and stage and many others. Over the years, Ndlovu has produced a body of work that reads like a lexicon of creativity in the annals of South African show business. From creating his early masterpieces such as Bergville Stories, to big stage productions such as The Game, his portfolio also includes being the South African casting director for Disney’s mega-hit The Lion King, and creating hugely successful, long-running TV soap operas such as Muvhango and Uzalo, and most recently, Imbewu The Seed, currently screening on e.tv.
     Choreographer Somizi Mhlongo has been in the entertainment business for almost 30 years. His career began when he was 13 years old – he joined the Broadway musical Sarafina! and later starred in the film adaptation, which also became the first big project he choreographed. As a young star, he featured in the movie, Cry, The Beloved Country. Mhlongo has established himself as a vanguard of the South African entertainment industry, becoming the go-to choreographer for high-end stage and television shows.

How Long? Playhouse Company
How Long? actors Khaya Dladla, Phindile Gwala and Sanele Gwala

     Heading the cast of How Long? is actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones, revered leading lady of the South African stage and screen and a Lifetime Achievement honoree at the 2017 Naledi Theatre Awards.
     Popular TV actor Khaya Dladla’s widespread celebrity status has earned him off-screen popularity as one of the most popular emcees in the business. Dladla has 20 years experience under his belt, focusing on a musical background.
     Actress Phindile Gwala – self-proclaimed ‘African queen’ – is best known for her starring role as Nonny on the soap opera Muvhango.
     New-generation TV star, Uzalo’s actor-dancer, Mondli Makhoba, brings his own pulling power to the cast of How Long?
     Another noted young actress who is set to appear onstage in the Gibson Kente classic is Nqobile Ndlovu, best known for her starring role as Nobuhle Zungu in the SABC1 drama series Ingozi.
     Also featuring on the distinguished cast list of How Long? are Vusi Majola, and rising young stars-in-the-making, Mduduzi Nombela, Nokubonga Khuzwayo, Nokwanda Khuzwayo, Mlamli Ningiza and Lungelo Ndlovu.
     Showtimes for this not-to-be-missed production are 19:00 Tuesday to Friday, 14:00 and 19:00 on Saturdays, and 14:00 on Sundays. Tickets range from R100 to R150. Special school performances are available at R30 per scholar. Bookings for these performances are via telephone: 031 369 9460/07 or via email sales@playhousecompany.com. Public bookings are through Computicket.

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