Tribute to the sinking of the Mendi is a hit and miss affair

Tribute to the sinking of the Mendi is a hit and miss affair

SHOW: Did We Dance: Ukutshona Ko Mendi/The Sinking Of The Mendi
DIRECTOR: Mandla Mbothwe
CAST: Warona Seane, Bongo Nkani, Owen Manamela-Mogane, Thando Doni, Apollo Ntshoko, Bongile Mantsai, Mongezi Ncwadi and Xolani Ngesi
VENUE: Baxter Studio until March 10

Some productions have the noblest of intentions, but however much one wishes for them to click, somehow it just doesn’t happen. ‘Did We Dance’ is such a production, where the various, somewhat disparate components just don’t form a cohesive whole.

Based on a script by Lara Foot, the production pays tribute to the hundreds of members of the South African Native Labour Corps that died onboard the SS Mendi during World War 1 in 1917. It does so by fusing dance together with spoken word. It also contains passages that can only be described as shamanic, and these constitute the most absorbing moments in the play, as the actors let loose with thrilling abandon. These formless passages alone might not have been enough to sustain an entire dramatic production, but to my mind it is the only segments in the play where you get the sense that there is something at stake.

The ominous mood conjured by the design and the aforementioned Carlos Castaneda moments are almost completely undone by the rather clumsily executed text. Lara Foot has proved herself a gifted wordsmith over the years, but director Mandla Mbothwe just cannot seem to find a harmonious balance between the dance and energy and animation and Foot’s rather cerebral musings. It’s a pity because the performers, specifically Owen Manamela, with his wonderful, noble bearing and the always marvellous Bongile Mantsai, are uniformly winning.


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