The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye, written and directed by the refreshingly talented Masai Sepuru was one of the 15 productions staged at the just ended Tembisa Theatre Week which took place at the TX Theatre, in Tembisa. The weeklong theatre festival which was celebrating its 4th year of existence this year prides itself as a platform for new stories, new voices, new talent and as one of the few spaces which showcases unconventional brand-new work.
The story which is set in a fictional yet for some reason familiar-sounding African country features two characters, Professor Samuel Omunye and General Muga Omunye (not related, though the tragic reason for why they share surnames is revealed later in the story) and cleverly pits the two in a heated philosophical debate on questions such as whether humans have freewill vis-a-vis hard determinism and just how much chance, choice or fate plays in the life of human beings and the decisions they make.
The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye is brilliant in that it not only uses these universal questions to frame a deeply African story but goes further to problematise pertinent issues such as colonialism, independence, post-colonialism and how many African countries still grapple with the multiple legacies of these ever-present histories and realities.
The two actors who to some degree are representations both of the African politician/academic and the African despot/dictator, perennially caricatured personalities familiar to those who live and follow political events on the continent – as the story forward the two debate quite vociferously whilst there is the small matter of a bomb which might go off at any moment. It is edge-of-your-seat theatre at its very best!
Writer and director Masai Sepuru, posits that the idea behind The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye was primarily because of his love for science, objective truth, hard determinism and associated questions hence this was what drove him to write this gripping drama.
For both James Sithole who plays Professor Samuel Omunye and Thabang Chauke who plays General Muga Omunye this story was one neither of them could pass on because it enabled them to combine their unrivalled acting prowess and bring to life this compelling story.
The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye is an African story, which could be staged anywhere on the African continent and still draw the same reactions due to the familiarity of its story and characters, but also how it unpacks complex issues using one could argue the knowledge of the erstwhile colonial master.
Though brought to life by an all-South African creative team, The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye is quintessentially an African story which stands stall next to others that have sought to rescue the African theatrical narrative from the usual run-on-the-mill mediocrity especially of story; it certainly is one which should be watched on more prominent stages as its portrayal of the continent brings to the fore a sense of why many African countries find themselves in the situations they are even as independence has dawned and yet the spectre of the former colonial regimes looms large and immovable.
The Tragedy of Samuel Omunye written and directed by Masai Sepuru and featuring James Sithole and Thabang Chauke was part of the Tembisa Theatre Week which took place at the TX Theatre in Thembisa from 20 February – 28 February 2021.