How do we begin to excavate and uncover the fragments of a story cemented in history? And how do we understand a figure whose story has largely been reduced to a singular narrative?
Conceptualised and directed by Calvin Ratladi and performed by Chuma Sopotela, Nongqawuse is an 11-minute epic focussed on the amaXhosa prophetess whose prophesies supposedly resulted in the Xhosa cattle-killing movement and famine of 1856-7. This is how Nongqawuse is most-often remembered, and there is supposedly little else about her that is recorded in oral or written accounts of her life.
Theatre, however, is a space for furthering stories. Through the work of Ratladi and Sopotela we are offered a glimpse into the life of this misunderstood figure. Sopotela’s performance is substantial yet restrained to small pockets of space on stage – a shrewd performative metaphor for a story not fully-told. Under Ratladi’s direction, Nongqawuse carries a hallucinatory quality to it as if, restricted by location and the cavernous reaches of time, we have had to meet with her through a dream.
Adding to this, a minimal set allows for the smaller details – costume, light design and a projected artwork made up of animal bones by visual artist Bronwyn Lace – to shine through all the more powerfully.
CONCEPTUALISED AND DIRECTED BY | Calvin Ratladi
PERFORMED BY | Chuma Sopotela
MUSICAL DIRECTION BY | Nhlanhla Mahlangu
MUSICAL TRANSLATION BY | Lulamile Nikani
COSTUMES BY | Shruthi Nair
WRITER | Dave Mann
VIDEO ENGINEER & EDITOR | Noah Cohen
STILLS PHOTOGRAPHER | Nina Lieska