Taking theatre out of the box and into the backyard

Lamla Ntsaluba stars in Mhlanguli George’s latest Theatre in the Backyard production, ‘Is he Mad?’. Photo by Christopher Clark.

Christopher Clark

6 October 2015

Mhlanguli George, a young Nyanga-based theatre producer and director, has created Theatre in the Backyard, which aims to offer a very different theatre experience from the mainstream.

“In Theatre in the Backyard we are breaking boundaries in theatre. There is no auditorium; there is no stage. It goes beyond acting and into real life,” says George.

He says the concept “came from an artistic curiosity of wanting to know what is happening in people’s backyards, because when we walk on the streets we don’t see what is happening in people’s backyards. I needed to reveal the secrets of this unknown world.”

Later in October, George will start running a joint experience with Cape Town-based tour operator Coffeebeans Routes, which has a focus on urban creativity and storytelling.

Coffeebeans Routes director Iain Harris says, “So much of our collective narrative is already forged in backyards, so why not our theatre? … It seeks small audiences, non-theatre spaces, and non-traditional theatre audiences. It’s close to home, where the established theatres are far from everybody. It doesn’t need lights or sound. It can travel anywhere. And it can have a huge impact.”

After the performance, which for the time being will take place in the backyard of a Nyanga home owned by some of George’s family friends, guests are invited to dine with George and the family, and to learn more about George’s concept and his life.

George’s current production is entitled Is He Mad, based on Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. The work is performed by Lamla Ntsaluba, whose previous credits include a role in Jazzart’s Biko’s Quest.

George’s piece and its performer make use of everything that is available to them in the Nyanga backyard setting, while the audience, with no allocated seating, have to negotiate their way around the performer and the space, depending on the action. A visceral piece, it touches on a number of contemporary South African issues such as xenophobia, government corruption and dangerous public transport.

Last week, speaking after a trial run of the new experience, Thola Antamu, another upcoming local theatre producer and performer, and one of the small handful of select guests invited to attend, said that she felt Cape Town needed this kind of interaction.

Leading man Ntsaluba said that there is generally “too much seriousness” in mainstream theatre in Cape Town, and that “people always want to put theatre in a neat little box”.

Theatre in the Backyard looks to definitively take theatre out of that box.

In Theatre in the Backyard, the actor uses whatever props he finds around him in the backyard setting. In this case, a concrete block becomes a cell phone. Photo by Christopher Clark.