Weaving the spell of witchcraft at Wits

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The Wits School of Arts and Wits Theatre presents Ten Bush, written by Mncedisi Shabangu and Craig Higginson and directed by award-winning director Prince Lamla.

Ten Bush is a play about witchcraft set against the harsh realities of the South African landscape. It will run in the Downstairs Theatre at Wits from October 13 to 21.

Originally created by Mncedisi Shabangu, through the Market Theatre Laboratory, the play has since been reworked by both Shabangu and co-writer Craig Higginson after they embarked on an incredible journey to discover the intricacies and inner-workings of witchcraft.

Shabangu and Higginson visited a settlement known as Tenbosch, which inspired the title of the play, and was situated in the middle of a large and affluent sugarcane farm.

“The farmer hadn’t bothered to provide sanitation or electricity for the settlement and the inhabitants got cold water from a single tap. The foreman, who had the highest status amongst the workers living there, had a bicycle and a walkie-talkie for communicating with the farmer,” Higginson explains.

The people in the settlement had crafted beautiful homes out of woven grass and reeds; the only furniture inside on the bare mud floor was a bucket and a mattress. This harsh yet arresting environment is what set the scene for Ten Bush.

Higginson used plays like Macbeth and Blood Wedding as his frame of reference, while Mncedisi was influenced by Theatre de Complicite as well as his own upbringing and the stories he heard as a child. They decided to write the play with large sections of Siswati and English.

Director of Ten Bush Prince Lamla, who is also a lecturer in the Theatre and Performance Division of the Wits School of Arts, speaks about why he chose this script for his 2017 production: “Mncedisi Shabangu’s work has always fascinated me since before I became a director over a decade and a half ago. As a director, I always wanted to seize the opportunity to present his work.

“When I look at Ten Bush, it has all the elements of the kind of theatre that I think needs to be staged. So, works like Ten Bush, for instance, I think should become one of the classics.

“One of the reasons I have decided to direct this play is I want the challenge of making the spirit realm visible. Choosing this as a student play means I can expose students to contemporary South African work that is authentically African.

“Teaching at Wits, I am aware that part of the journey is to decolonise learning. So as part of the education and experiential learning this is a good script for them to become familiar with not just with the cultural practices but with the writers that are in the industry.”

Lamla had a very clear vision from the outset of how he wanted the production to look and feel. Drawing from Mncedisi and Higginson’s visit to Tenbosch in the middle of the sugarcane, he decided to leave the stage bare but for four benches and a few simple yet effective props including blankets and some leafy branches, which the actors use to create spaces and sounds.

Hailing from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Lamla is an award-winning and leading theatre director of his generation.

“We are excited to be staging this thought-provoking play at the Wits Theatre and it is an honour to have the talents of Prince who brings a distinctive style of direction to Ten Bush,” says Wits Theatre Director, Gita Pather.

The talented cast of six are Ratanang Mogtsi, Abongile Maurice Matyutyu, Nolitha Radebe, Xolile Gama, Angelinah Mofokeng and Sandile Mazibuko.

Catch Ten Bush in the Downstairs Theatre at the Wits Theatre Complex, Braamfontein at 7.30 pm on October 13, 7.30 pm from October 12 to 21 and 3.30 pm on October 21. Tickets R80-R85 (R55-R60 students). Book at www.webtickets.co.za or buy your tickets at the door.

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