Kani un­earths a rare gem in young ac­tress

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS - SAM MATHE

SHE RE­CENTLY touched the hearts of mourn­ers when she spoke at her grand­mother’s fu­neral in Vry­burg, North West. The young woman with the film-star looks spoke pas­sion­ately about the spe­cial bond she shared with ANC stal­wart Ruth Mom­pati.

Few could have sus­pected she is one of the ris­ing stars of South African theatre and an as­pir­ing Hol­ly­wood ac­tress.

Buhle Ngaba is star­ring in Miss­ing at the State Theatre, along­side vet­er­ans John Kani and Su­san Dan­ford. It is a ro­man­tic po­lit­i­cal thriller about Robert Khalipa (Kani), a re­turn­ing ex­ile who is forced to re­de­fine his no­tion of home, his Swedish wife, Anna Ol­son (Su­san Dan­ford), and their daugh­ter Ayanda (Ngaba).

Only in her mid-twen­ties, she is the youngest ac­tress to have starred with revered thes­pian Kani.

This ado­ra­tion for Kani was ev­i­dent dur­ing the play’s open­ing on June 5, when the cast en­joyed thun­der­ous stand­ing ova­tions.

The vet­eran of South African clas­sics such as Master Harold & the Boys, Satur­day Night at the Palace and The Na­tive Who Caused All the Trou­ble was un­der no il­lu­sion that in Ngaba he had un­earthed a very rare gem.

“It’s un­usual to iden­tify a young and promis­ing tal­ent with such a spark in her.

“She has all the hall­marks of a great ac­tress, if she re­mains lev­el­headed,” he ob­serves. She would need “pas­sion, hunger to learn and to take her roles with ex­cep­tional se­ri­ous­ness”.

Kani re­mem­bers how he was struck by her “mix-race” looks and act­ing tal­ent dur­ing au­di­tions for Miss­ing.

“She is per­fect for the role of a mix-race cou­ple like Anna and Robert. But what most peo­ple don’t know about her is that she is an amaz­ing singer as well.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Kani says he only dis­cov­ered that Ngaba was re­lated to Mom­pati when she at­tended the open­ing night of Miss­ing at the Bax­ter Theatre in Cape Town last year.

“For 15 years, I have been on the coun­cil of pres­i­den­tial awards (or­ders) with ‘Madame Rute”, as we called her, but I wouldn’t have sus­pected they were re­lated. From this I con­cluded that she is a hum­ble, strong and in­de­pen­dent per­son, who wanted to suc­ceed and be judged by her abil­i­ties – not fam­ily links.”

Miss­ing is a hard-hit­ting com­men­tary on South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. For Ngaba it is not just another pro­duc­tion.

“This is clear by the over­whelm­ing re­sponses we re­ceive from au­di­ences ev­ery night. It is in­cred­i­ble to be in a play that en­cour­ages con­ver­sa­tions about the state of the na­tion. Theatre should en­cour­age de­bate. Miss­ing does that in a spe­cial way.”

She de­scribes her char­ac­ter Ayanda as hon­est, in­tel­li­gent, in­de­pen­dent, ar­tic­u­late and hot-headed.

“I don’t share Ayanda’s tem­per but she rep­re­sents the dis­il­lu­sion­ment of youth in a new South Africa. The coun­try that Ayanda was promised by her fa­ther Robert Khalipa is not what she found when she ar­rived.

“He as­sured her that she would im­me­di­ately feel at home in South Africa but that was not to be. So, she is led to ques­tion where ‘home’ is for her.”

And what about Ngaba’s il­lus­tri­ous costars, in­clud­ing Apollo Nt­shoko (Peter Tsha­bal­ala, Robert’s young com­rade)?

“What I en­joy about per­form­ing with them is the con­tin­u­ous op­por­tu­nity to learn and grow. They chal­lenge and nur­ture my act­ing skills and in­spire me to tell Ayanda’s story to the best of my abil­i­ties.”

A drama grad­u­ate of Rhodes and Leeds Univer­sity in Eng­land, Ngaba’s pro­fes­sional the­atri­cal de­but was in Rob Mur­ray’s A Con­spir­acy of Clowns (2012), a role she re­gards as her best stage train­ing. The role of Mrs Lyons in David Kramer’s Blood Broth­ers (2013) was a high­light as it marked her in­tro­duc­tion to mu­si­cal theatre. It was dur­ing its run that Kani dis­cov­ered her.

Ngaba says her fam­ily in Vry­burg en­cour­aged her cre­ativ­ity.

“I was an in­quis­i­tive and talk­a­tive lit­tle girl. My fam­ily bought me books on mu­sic and drama to stim­u­late my cu­rios­ity. They would also en­dure hours of watch­ing my make-be­lieve sto­ries – with mu­sic and cos­tumes – in our lounge.

“The women in my fam­ily are all very strong and de­ter­mined. Through them, I learnt to be re­lent­less in pur­suit of my dreams, to work in­cred­i­bly hard and to do it all in style and with in­tegrity. We are a proud and close-knit fam­ily.”

The ac­tress is work­ing on a play based on her fam­ily, no­tably her for­mi­da­ble grand­mother.

“There aren’t many roles writ­ten for young black fe­males, so I am de­ter­mined to write my own. I am not in­ter­ested in hav­ing other peo­ple speak for me when I have my own voice.”

She is also run­ning drama work­shops for school­child­ren in North West, while work­ing on her dream of be­ing a film star.

“Ex­pect to see me on your screens soon,” Ngaba says.

Miss­ing is writ­ten by John Kani and di­rected by Jan­ice Honey­man. It runs un­til Satur­day.

PIC­TURE:CARA VIERECKL

EX­PRES­SIVE: Ac­claimed thes­pian John Kani stars in Miss­ing with up-and-com­ing ac­tress Buhle Ngaba and Su­san Dan­ford.

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