Theatre review: Ndebele Funeral
Theatre review: Ndebele Funeral

Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Ndebele Funeral, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield ★★★★ In A shanty town on the edge of Soweto, Thandi is dying of Aids. But her approach to death is unconventional. She is using the wood supplied by the ANC government for home improvements after a recent flood to build a …

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Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Ndebele Funeral, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield

★★★★

In A shanty town on the edge of Soweto, Thandi is dying of Aids. But her approach to death is unconventional. She is using the wood supplied by the ANC government for home improvements after a recent flood to build a beautiful – and comfortable – coffin. It will, she reasons, be her home for some time.

Her old university friend Mandisi (Yusef Miller) wants her to pay for expensive treatment and move to a better part of town, while government official Jan (Jonathan David Martin) just wants to tick boxes on his clipboard about how the donated materials are being used.

Zoey Martinson’s three-hander (she also gives a spirited performance as Thandi) was written after a spell as an aid worker in West Africa, and visits to Soweto to conduct interviews. Awoye Timpo’s dynamic production for New York-based Smoke & Mirrors Collaborative incorporates elements of African dance and song.

Thandi and Mandisi laugh, argue, sing, recall the beginning of their friendship, and chew the fat over the problems of their country: the crime rate, the corruption, a rich/poor divide which appears to be greater than ever. Both mourn missed opportunities. Thandi has a medical degree but has never practised, Mandisi forsook his dream of becoming a writer for an office job and a middle-class lifestyle.

Ultimately, there is too much material here to fit comfortably into a single play. Fresh subjects – Thandi’s speech to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for example – are opened up but not fully explored, and Mandisi’s own revelation is too much, too late. But while Ndebele Funeral would be stronger with more focus, it is nevertheless important as an exploration of contemporary South Africa, and as a portrait of a fierce, clever woman who manages to affirm life by choosing death.

Summerhall (Venue 26), until 30 August, 1pm / listings

Published in The Scotsman on 15 August 2015

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