SHOW: THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
CAST: MOLEFI MONAISA, BRANDON AURET, SELLO RAMOLAHLOANE, ZIMKITHA KUMBACA, TERRENCE NGWIRA, CHRISTOPHER MOTSWENI, ZAMAH NGUBANE, MARISKA DENYSSCHEN, MARCUS MAREDI, PHUMI MALULEKA
DIRECTOR: MPUMELELO PAUL GROOTBOOM
VENUE: ARENA AT THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE THEATRE, PRETORIA, UNTIL 25 JUNE
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN
Noted South African playwright and director Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom has over the years made an enormous contribution to the South African theatrical landscape with controversial and provocative productions.
‘The President’s Men’ is an enterprise in which Grootboom takes a long, hard look at a volatile scenario that is not far removed from what is happening in our own beloved country.
The opening scenes are in true Quentin Tarantino style, with two hit men chasing their quarry (a Union leader) across the stage, firing at random. Their murderous action signals a blueprint upon which the play revolves; if anybody gets in the way, just murder them.
Grootboom’s production homes in on a county (no names, but comparisons are easily drawn here) in which a powerful and corrupt Police Commissioner, Alfred Kutu (Molefi Monaisa), rules his little kingdom under the nose of his President. Though married to the President’s sister, Kutu blatantly plays sugar-daddy to a lovely young thing (Phumi Maluleka) whom he visits regularly. He is part of the ‘blesser’ culture and is sitting on top of the pile and is seemingly untouchable; a struggle veteran with all the right credentials.
Things come to a head when an angry individual (Marcus Maredi), denied a government tender, approaches the National Prosecuting Authority with a thick dossier accusing Kutu of corruption, cronyism and possible criminal activities. Being the brave soul that she is, the head of the NPA (Zimkitha Kumbaca), in stoic Thuli Madonsela style, launches an investigation into these serious allegations, and what she unearths forms the framework of Grootboom’s often engrossing drama in which “democracy is a game we play,” according to one of the characters.
Kutu has underworld links and one close associate is Ari (Brandon Auret), a Greek gangster, who fled his homeland under a cloud. The long-haired, thickly accentuated Ari, who is burdened with a gammy leg and who walks with the aid of a stick, employs two hit men (Terrence Ngwira and Christopher Motsweni) and they know how to do their nefarious work.
A journalist (Mariska Denysschen) enters the fray and attempts to expose what is happening – with dire consequences.
The arguments Grootboom propounds in his play don’t really track new territory, but merely revisits and reflects a scenario all too familiar with South African politics as it exists today.
The characters are basically stereotypical entities following a predictable path and surprises are few.
The drama that unfolds resembles a gangster movie. It’s violent and awash with well-choreographed action scenes, all played out on the vast Arena stage which is divided into four distinctive sets, with the President’s plush office elevated to an upper level.
Those familiar with Grootboom’s work will not be surprised to learn that ‘The President’s Men’ is also a lengthy, over-written diatribe. The large cast – there are 10 players, many slipping into different roles at times – did not always project from the stage, resulting in the wordy dialogue often being lost.
Still, there were some solid performances, but the three most commanding came from Molefi Monaisa’s arrogant Kuti; the feisty Zimkitha Kumbaca as the no-nonsense Public Protector; and Brandon Auret’s creepy Ari.
A word of warning, though: the running time of ‘The President’s Men’ is almost four hours. Judicious pruning of several scenes, including one involving a sex party, and another where a gangster talks about fear and respect, would not have detracted from the play’s essence.
It’s certainly worth seeing for its visual impact alone, but to sit through a four hour performance (including an interval) is an unnecessary endurance test – even for the most ardent of theatre-goers.