After the unforeseen Covid-19 induced public events hiatus where all forms of public gatherings including theatre productions were not allowed, Joburg Theatre has managed to do what few theatres around the world have managed which is to stage a live theatre production with a live audience.
Dead End written by prolific award-winning South African playwright, novelist, storyteller, historian, artist and beekeeper Zakes Mda and first performed at Diepkloof Hall, Soweto on 14 February 1979 is the production which by all accounts has heralded some sort of return for live theatre.
Given that many theatre enthusiasts had over the past months been forced to survive on a diet of sometimes poorly recorded virtual theatre productions from archives, Thursday 20 August 2020 was a momentous occasion which saw the first group of 50 paying patrons (the maximum allowed under level two lockdown regulations) attend a live theatre production. The new normal dictated that each has their temperature checked and sanitise their hands upon arriving before proceeding to buy or collect tickets and then be ushered into the theatre by PPE wearing staff members who also conducted one final temperature check of all patrons. The sitting arrangement was strictly 1.5 metres apart and the wearing of masks was mandatory throughout the performance – this is the “new normal” for the foreseeable future!
The choice of staging a production with such a title by Joburg City Theatres could have been accidental but one could not ignore the irony given how theatre, industry and commerce and life as we know or knew it has to some degree reached a proverbial dead end over the past few months where the world has grappled with varying degrees of success with Covid-19.
Featuring a supremely talented cast of Mncedisi Shabangu, Sanelisiwe Yekani and Khulu Skenjana and directed by Makhaola Ndebele, this over 40 year-old production was given a new lease of life as it’s themes such as the abuse and exploitation of women once again presented and the fact that it has was Women’s Month in South Africa further heightened the sense and reality that not nearly enough has been done to end the suffering of women at the hands of men and a toxic patriarchal society.
The experimental four day run perhaps the shortest ever for any fully fledged production at any of the Joburg City Theatres was again indicative of how much the world has changed over the past few months – and also a forebearer of how life as we know or knew it is gone.
Joburg City Theatres under CEO Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema must be applauded for their bravery in staging this production under extremely strict Level Two safety protocols and for doing all that was necessary to ensure the safety of the patrons and their staff.
Dead End by Zakes Mda featuringMncedisi Shabangu, Sanelisiwe Yekani, Khulu Skenjana and directed by Makhaola Ndebele was on at The Joburg Theatre from 20-24 August.
Tonderai Chiyindiko is a part-time arts writer and contributor. He holds a B.A honours degree in drama from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Applied Drama from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been part and parcel of the theatre-verse both as an actor and director and more generally worked extensively within the cultural and creative industries sector in various capacities.