Fleur du Cap nominee’s play shines (single) light on complex student movements
23 Years, a month and 7 days
Written and directed by Nwabisa Plaatjie
Baxter Theatre Centre, 14 – 24 March 2018
Fleur du Cap nominee for Best New Director, playwright Nwabisa Plaatjie, brings a deeply human story set against the backdrop of the 2015 #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements to the Baxter Theatre stage this week.
23 Years, a Month and 7 Days is an hour-long piece with an ensemble cast of eight; powerful, potent and in line with a contentious, unresolved and ongoing socio-political issue in South African society. It will be be staged at Flipside from 14 to 24 March at 7.30pm nightly.
Plaatjie, 24, graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2015. The play was written in direct response to her experience of her final year as a student. Performed in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa the play also uses the language of physical theatre and storytelling to portray the experiences of a single female student who finds her identity in conflict with her environment. In response to its first performance two years ago, theatre commentators described the piece as "incisive", "intelligent" and "shedding new light on a complex and layered political situation".
23 Years, a month and 7 days shares its origins with The Fall, the frank, collaborative theatre piece created by seven of Plaatjie’s fellow graduates. The Fall premiered to great acclaim at the Baxter last year and has since been gathering international accolades. But where The Fall represents the experience of the collective, 23 Years tells of the individual. It introduces themes of migration and self-actualisation to the one of mass student movement and youth-led revolution.
“I wanted to write a play that gives attention to a female voice, one that is not necessarily revolutionary, that is not a hero,” says Plaatjie. “The main character in 23 Years, a Month and 7 Days, a young womxn, Nontyatyambo, is a first year student new to activism and protest. But she is human, she is present and her experiences are acknowledged.”
The play was written in 2016 whilst Plaatjie was sharing a theatre-making internship at Magnet Theatre with poet playwright Lwanda Sindaphi. She was 23 years old at the time, had a month to finish her script and seven is her favourite number. This working title stuck and 23 Years premièred to great acclaim at Magnet Theatre in 2016. International exposure followed with an invitation to the Young Arts Fest in Erlangen, Germany last year.
“I’m from Ugie in the Eastern Cape but my character, even though she evokes some of my experiences when first arriving at university, is from a fictional rural and poor community, Potter’s Field, and not set in any specific place or province,” says Plaatjie.
Immersed in a volatile and systemically violent social and political environment Nontyatyambo finds her identity in conflict with what is happening around her, and her voice quiet rather than vocal in protest. Her journey of self-actualisation entails the redefinition of her role in this society.
In her final year of studies Plaatjie created Identirrhaging which was performed at UCT and at the Rosebank Theatre (2016). During her first professional year in the Magnet Internship she also created Aha! for early years audiences.
In 2017 she was awarded the Theatre Arts Admin Collective’s 2017 Emerging Theatre Director’s Bursary for Reimaging The Native Who Caused All The Trouble and was the first recipient of the Baxter Theatre Centre Playlab. She is currently curating and coordinating the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre, driving its relaunch as a space for performance, collaboration and networking.
She is one of five nominees for Best New Director for the 2018 Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards to be presented in Cape Town on 18 March.
23 Years, a Month and 7 Days opens at the Baxter Flipside on Wednesday 14 March at 7.30pm. Performances are Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm, with 11am shows scheduled on 20 and 22 March and 2pm matinee shows on Saturdays.
The play is presented by the Baxter in association with Magnet Theatre and performed by ensemble cast of Magnet Theatre trainees: Beviol Swartz, Emmanuel Ntsamba, Livie Ncanywa, Luthando Mvandaba, Lwando Magwaca, Natasha Gana, Inge Isaacs and Zizipho Quluba. Design is by Craig Leo.
Tickets cost R100, R50 for students and R70 for block bookings. Booking is through Webtickets on 086 111 0005, online at www.webtickets.co.za or at selected Pick n Pay stores.
For discounted school or group block bookings, fundraisers or charities, contact Sharon Ward on 021 680 3962 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Carmen Kearns on 021 680 3993 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
- Photographs by Mark Wessels