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Athol@86: Revisiting Nongogo

Athol Fugard’s Nongogo was first staged in 1959, when the playwright was in his 20s. Now, almost 60 years later, the play will be staged at the Market Theatre from 15 June to 15 July 2018 as part of their Athol@86 season. Creative Feel spoke to Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo, who will be directing the play.

Peter Mashigo (Blackie), Bongani Gumede (Patrick), Vusi Kunene (Sam) and Zenzo Ngqobe (Johnny). PHOTO Brett Rubin

     One of Fugard’s ‘township plays’, Nongogo covers the complexities of black urban life. It is a reflective piece of theatre and has a long history that is part of the tapestry of South Africa. Set in the 1950s, a vibrant yet turbulent time in the history of our country, the play also weaves in a touch of romance that ultimately is not realised at the end.
     Nongogo revolves around life in a township front-room shebeen, operated by an enigmatic woman known as Queenie. While her past remains a secret to many of the characters of the play, the audience already has an idea of what it might entail – nongogo is zulu/township slang for ‘prostitute’. Johnny, a young, travelling salesman, storms into her life with a suitcase full of tablecloths. Swept off her feet by this ernest young man who too harbours a secret, Queenie immediately changes her life – and her home decor – to please him.
     Playing out alongside this budding romance are the harsh realities of township life, revealed in hunchbacked Blackie; conniving Sam; and destitute Patrick.
     Blackie, homeless and socially disorientated, has taken a vow to ‘protect’ Queenie. He brings her (unwanted) stolen gifts in attempts to please her.
     Disruptive and morally decadent, Sam, Queenie’s ‘fixer’ and former pimp, exerts a vicious presence in her life.

Zikhona Sodlaka (Nongogo/Queenie). PHOTO Brett Rubin

     Meanwhile, Patrick spends his time trying to find a name for his umpteenth child. In an attempt to escape the realities of his growing family responsibilities, he drowns himself in alcohol.
     This is not James Ngcobo’s first time directing Nongogo, having directed it in 2013, just before he joined the Market Theatre as artistic director. He will again be working with Nadya Cohen on the set design, who has designed the set for the play many times and has worked on numerous Fugard plays over the years.
     Ngcobo’s passion for Athol Fugard’s plays, Nongogo and theatre in general is undeniable as he talks about directing the play. ‘For Athol@86, I wanted to do Nongogo again with a completely new cast and a new take on it,’ says Ngcobo. ‘I’ve been sitting with Nadya and we’ve been revisiting the design.’
     For the cast, Ngcobo has chosen Zikhona Sodlaka as Nongogo/Queenie, Vusi Kunene as Sam, Peter Mashigo as Blackie, Bongani Gumede as Patrick and Zenzo Ngqobe as Johnny.
     Zikhona Sodlaka is a South African actress best known for her starring roles in such television series as Shooting Stars, Rhythm City, Soul City, Intsika and Montana.
     Vusi Kunene is an award-winning actor with over 25 films and television shows under his belt, and is best-known for his role as villain Jack Mabaso in Generations – a good foundation for his upcoming portrayal of Sam…

Read more about Peter Mashigo, Bongani Gumede, Zenzo Ngqobe, and see what Ngcobo has to say about Queenie, Johnny, Patrick, and Blackie by supporting the arts & culture sector and purchasing our latest issue here. This is definitely not a production to be missed!

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