Waiting for Thandiwe - Out of Africa
This article is from 2008.
Town meets country in a true-life culture-clash comedy from Cape Town. Alastair Mabbott finds himself Waiting for Thandiwe.
Black Curtain has been active for little more than a year, but the South African theatre company is already making its way to the Edinburgh Fringe with debut production Waiting for Thandiwe. The piece is written by Lulama Masimini who also plays the central role of Lulu, a village boy who attends drama school in Cape Town, where he loses his heart to the cosmopolitan city-dweller Thandiwe. When Thandiwe arranges to come and visit Lulu at his village during the holidays, he starts to panic. The girl knows little of village life. How is he to present himself to her in this environment, which is so different to the one she’s used to?
‘Yes, the play is based on my own life,’ laughs Masimini down a crackly line from Cape Town. ‘I grew up in King William’s Town. Like Mandela, I come from a very small village. But through being educated, you go to live in big cities. Myself, I went to Cape Town and I have become a different person, and when I go back I realise how impoverished I am.’
The transition from working class to middle class was a struggle, but today, still proud of his roots, he remembers that time with fondness. ‘You look back at it and you laugh,’ he says. ‘While I was writing it, it became a comedy.’
Part fictional and part autobiographical, the play was inspired by the young Masimini’s first encounters with women who were different from him - and even more different from the women he’d grown up with. So, was there a girl like Thandiwe that he made a fool of himself over? ‘Yes, firstly she couldn’t understand the language I was speaking,’ he says. ‘Because she was black, I thought she understood my home language, which is Xhosa. When you meet another black person you assume they speak an African language, and then you find out that, nah, they only speak English. Thandiwe is a combination of all these women that I have met. Even my girlfriend now, she does represent that kind of a life.’
The events on which the play is based took place in the 80s, but the issues he explores are, if anything, even more pertinent now. ‘It’s been very interesting,’ he says, ‘because the play really deals with identity and I think identity and Africa are going to go hand in hand for a while because people don’t feel ownership. Even the radio stations, they’ll play more American music than African music. Issues of identity are very serious at this stage. For the past 20 years it’s been pretty rough. I don’t think our country is really world class about the cultural issues. That leads us to go to Edinburgh to convince everyone.’
Black Curtain’s aim isn’t just to take South African culture to the wider world, but to help rejuvenate live theatre in its homeland. ‘We want to build up an audience at home because our people have been culturally deprived as well,’ says Masimini. ‘Theatre was used as a weapon to fight. People used it to tell the truth, so it was always something that was oppressed.’
The show’s short run in Masimini’s home of King William’s Town was particularly memorable for him. ‘Actually, we had the biggest response. I had my reservations, but it was hilarious. People came twice, the following day they’d come again with somebody else. Even in Cape Town, Johannesburg, bigger cities, we would get any kind of audience. White people, Chinese people, everybody. I think that’s where we get the confidence to take the play to Edinburgh.’
Waiting For Thandiwe - A Romantic Comedy, Underbelly’s Baby Belly, 0844 545 8252, 11–24 Aug, 7.45pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Preview 10 Aug, £6.