By: Bulelwa Mthombothi
Metsi, a play written and directed by Hannah van Tonder is currently streaming on YouTube, via The State Theatre’s YouTube channel. It debuted on the 30th of September on the online platform and will run until the 18 th of October. You can watch here.
The title of the play, places Water at the forefront, as Metsi directly translated from SeSotho into English means “Water”. Water represents Life as much as it does Death. Water is life, our bodies are made up of 70% water making it essential to our existence as humans, and in nature. It is as natural as seeking love, searching for home once it’s been lost and trying to find yourself especially as a black person living in post-apartheid South Africa. Our sense of self is a journey we rarely realise we are on. These are some of the themes explored by van Tonder with the use of water.
This play is interesting in that van Tonder uses a myriad of artistic devices to tell the story, including of course language. She makes use of Sesotho, isiZulu and English interchangeably with the characters switching seamlessly between the languages while conversing. This is perhaps to show how colonialism has fractured our languages and by extension our sense of self and what home means to us in a post-colonial South Africa. It is indicative of South African culture and how we find ourselves moving in and out of different spaces and how we compartmentalise our being based on language and the ability to speak it, especially our indigenous languages. “Language is a sense of practice” van Tonder notes in her interview with Outside Radio’s Supreme who chatted to the playwright ahead of the release of the play. I held onto this quote because I believe it sums up her intention with the use of different languages and in turn different landscapes to show how we travel to find home and self just as water travels.
The story is love story but one devoid of fantasy, rooted in spirituality but lived
realistically. This is to say; the story is not made up of situations that magically land two people together but rather written in a way that relates how organic life can be when you’re guides lead you and you follow. This might seem like a fantasy itself but African spirituality and ancestral lineage is as real as this keyboard I’m typing on. Especially in the case of the female lead; Juliet Zulu – played by Balindile kaNgcobo who has left her father’s home in search of a place she can call her own. Spiritually just as water plays a significant role, figuratively and literally as two of the characters on stage are the two main characters’ spirit guides and lead them to one another. The guides are “Mhlaba” played by Thulisile Banda, whose performance boasts experience and patience as she painstakingly takes on the weight of her task as a guide. The other guide, “Sikhathi” played by Xolisile Bongwana, is more playful, just like the one his guiding; “Motswahole” played by Abongile Maurice Matyutyu.
The actors make the story come to life in a way that is very gratifying to see. They lend themselves to the story in a way that both showcases their talents and the prowess of the story at hand. It is a multi-faceted piece of work that uses everything on the stage to its disposal and does so exceptionally well. The lighting on the stage, the use of the props, the sounds of water are so realistic you become totally engrossed and forget that this is something staged, that is how real it feels. You feel the presence of water unequivocally, it is never late, always on time either to take or to give. Its power is almost boastful in its intensity, showcasing the binary of love and loss and the way in which these concepts affect our idea of home. Go watch it and see for yourself.