An­other chap­ter of suc­cess

Ac­tress goes from strength to strength

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODTHEATRE -

IN 1993, Amer­i­can Ful­bright Scholar Amy Biehl was mur­dered in Gugulethu by a mob. Au­thor Dr Sindiwe Mag­ona dis­cov­ered that one of the mur­der­ers was her neigh­bour’s son.

In re­sponse, Mag­ona wrote a fic­tional mem­oir, Mother to Mother, as a “heart­felt let­ter from one mother to an­other” to Amy Biehl’s mother.

Ac­tress/singer/TV star Thembi Mt­shali-Jones ap­proached the Bax­ter with the idea of adapt­ing the play for the stage.

The re­sult is Mother to Mother, a one-han­der with Mt­shali-Jones which is pre­mier­ing at the Bax­ter on Septem­ber 15. It will be on un­til Oc­to­ber 10 and is di­rected by Jan­ice Honey­man with set by Dicky Longhurst.

Mt­shali-Jones was stunned when she read Mag­ona’s book and the in­sights it pro­vides. We know about the vic­tim (Amy Biehl) and her story, but what about the per­pe­tra­tors? The no­tion of good ver­sus evil hov­ers on a thin edge. As a mother, she em­pathised with the pain of Linda Biehl and the moth­ers of the mur­der­ers.

In De­cem­ber 2007, Mt­shali-Jones ap­proached Bax­ter di­rec­tor Man­nie Manim and asked him if he thought there was a play in the book.

“A few weeks later, he said that he loved it. ‘Okay, we will work on it.’ Then he called and said, ‘we have a slot – who would you like to work with’ and I said – Jan­ice (Hon- ey­man),” said Mt­shali-Jones.

The as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween Mt­shali-Jones and Honey­man goes way back.

“I think I have done about five pro­duc­tions with Jan­ice. Man­nie was say­ing, ‘this is my last new pro­duc­tion at the Bax­ter’. (Manim re­tires as Bax­ter di­rec­tor at the end of the year). And I said, ‘I am glad, be­cause I did my first play with you when you were run­ning the Mar­ket The­atre in Jo­han­nes­burg’.”

In­deed, Mt­shali-Jones has made her mark in the­atre over four decades. “I am tur ning 60 in Novem­ber,” she mur­murs.

She was born in 1949 and grew up in Ulundi, near Dur­ban. Her school­ing was in­ter­rupted when she was 18 and fell preg­nant. She dropped out of school to sup­port her­self and her child. Her mother was a do­mes­tic worker and Mt­shal­iJones fol­lowed in her foot­steps.

Mt­shali-Jones al­ways loved singing at school. Her em­ploy­ers read about au­di­tions for Wel­come Msomi’s UMa­batha – a Zulu adap­ta­tion of Macbeth – at the Uni­ver­sity of Natal and urged her to en­ter.

That was 1971. The fol­low­ing year, the pro­duc­tion went to Lon- don. On her re­turn, Mt­shali-Jones went back to her job as a maid.

In 1973, she ditched the do­mes­tic work and went along for the sec­ond tour. On her re­turn to South Africa, she nabbed the lead role in the mu­si­cal Ipi Tombi. She joined the orig­i­nal cast when it toured Europe and the US.

Af­ter the show closed, and with the help of Ab­dul­lah Ibrahim who was liv­ing on New York, Mt­shali Jones and col­leagues from Ipi Tombi formed the Free­dom Singers. She worked with Hugh Masekela then toured with Miriam Makeba.

In 1983, she came back home and started her TV ca­reer. “That was some­thing that wasn’t there when I left in 1976. You do the­atre to feed your soul and TV to feed your pocket.”

Her TV cred­its in­clude the se­ries Stokvel and an Emmy nom­i­na­tion. She has done fea­ture films and is the co-owner of a pro­duc­tion com­pany, Spirit Sis­ters, which pro­duces the weekly TV mag­a­zine se­ries The Power Within.

Mt­shali-Jones stitched the sto­ries of her life to­gether in her onewoman show, A Woman in Wait­ing. It has been staged at the Gra­ham­stown Fes­ti­val, Artscape, Ed­in­burgh, Ber­muda and Toronto.

One night, when she was on stage at Artscape, an English­man saw her per­form. Af­ter the show, over drinks at the Water­front, they were in­tro­duced by mu­tual friends. They fell in love, mar­ried and set­tled here.

That was nine years ago. Woman in Wait­ing (writ­ten and di­rected by Yael Far­ber) has kept her busy with per­for mances at in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals and events. She has also been a key mem­ber of Truth in Trans­la­tion, a play about the trans­la­tors at the TRC set to an

Ae­voca­tive score by Masekala. This work, di­rected by New Yorker Michael Les­sac, was first staged in 2006 in Rwanda. It played in Cape Town and at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, in the US, Swe­den and Ire­land. Its most re­cent tour was to the Balkans last year.

Last year, Mt­shali-Jones per­formed at the Bax­ter in the epic play, Cissie. And now she will go solo in Mother to Mother.

“It is a play which should res­onate with all moth­ers – black, white, what­ever. No mat­ter how you raise them, you never know what your chil­dren will be­come. They sel­dom be­come what you want them to be,” she re­flects.

“But ul­ti­mately the story is one about hope and for­give­ness”.

Mother to Mother is on at the Bax­ter from Septem­ber 15 un­til Oc­to­ber 10. Tick­ets from Com­puticket.

FEED­ING HER SOUL: Thembi Mt­shali-Jones stars in Mother to Mother, a play about hope and for­give­ness.

PIC­TURE: ROBYN CO­HEN

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