Originally published in Cue.
Opening the annual Student Theatre Festival for the second year in a row, the University of the Witwatersrand brings a political piece that played to a packed crowd at the Rehearsal Room yesterday. Dedicated to South African domestic workers, Maid in Mzansi is relevant and powerful.
The cast of seven workshopped the play with their director, Roberto Queiroz. The script is based on interviews with their own domestic workers, a personal touch that works well to prevent the piece from straying into a depiction of binary good and evil, and allows for a sensitive look at all the characters. Although some dialogue is remarkably unsubtle, the solid cast performance and mature satire carry the play.
The play opens with a short monologue before catapulting into a strong a cappella cover of Sophie Mgcina’s angry song, Madam, Please. Short musical transitions scattered throughout help link the seemingly unrelated storylines together.
Sibusiso Mkhize, as the eloquent and sophisticated Sizwe Mtalo, delivers a long speech in the opening minutes that could be considered the mission statement of the whole play. “I will give a voice to the voiceless and I will make damn sure that they are heard,” he declares from on high.
Siphumelele Chagwe as the maid, Mildred, and Lindy Kremer as the madam, Jill, are perfectly paired. Kremer’s face moulds itself easily into a showcase of pouty, ‘tragic’ misery and Chagwe wholly inhabits the character of the long-suffering maid.
An exchange between the two encapsulates the maid/madam dynamic. “MILDRED!” complains Kremer childishly. “Mildred, I have a headache!”
Chagwe pauses and replies with a highly unimpressed “Mmmhmm”.
The other pairing of Boitumelo Magolekgo and Rachael Makatile as energetic maids Madibuseng and Mavis provides a vibrant backdrop to the main action and leads many of the musical interludes.
Overall, Maid in Mzansi is highly enjoyable and stands as a robust piece of theatre that is a clear and unequivocal demand for respect.