Lebitso: A physical theatre journey into a ‘Name’

Lebitso in performance. Photo: Thandolwethu Gulwa/Cue.

Strings of vertical brown paper stretch like trees from the ground to the sky. Little blankets of brown, dry autumn leaves scatter across the stage. The elements of the stage speak loudly of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

“Oh, gods! Bless this ritual and clear our paths”.

Blood red lighting enters the stage from side to side and the performers are clothed in muddy pants and tops merging with the colours of the earthly stage. Music composed by AFDA alumni Andile Nxele creates a soothing and dramatic, yet relaxing atmosphere.

An enthusiastic Letlhogonolo (Matthew Oliver Dalton) opens the act in giggles and a sort of absurdity. Lebitso (‘Name’): “a unique collaboration between AFDA Johannesburg and Østfold University College / Norwegian Theater Academy” is a storytelling of the importance of names and the diverse meanings name bear.

But does one ever go on a quest of discovering how their name defines them and what it means to those who came before one? What was the initial purpose of your name?

“Tlhogi ngwanaka! I may not be here in flesh but I am here in spirit. Oh! Letlhogonolo la mama.”

Tenor and soprano notes leave the voiceboxes of the performers and pack the Rehearsal Room full of music. SeTswana prayers and English monologues giving praise to the gods and red and full moons of this universe reverberate across the theatre.

The ancestors also have a name: Badimo. Badimo ba buwa le Tlhogi (the ancestors speak to Tlhogi) while he remains smothered in societal norms of dismissing the unseen and the unknown. Blocking out the voice of his mother. Burying it like ashes and dust in his memory. Ntate, o ba tshwarele, hobane ha ba tsebe seo ba se etsang.”

But later, he undergoes a spiritual awakening. What is in a name? “How do you praise and follow a Master you have never seen?”

“Messiah!” That is also a name. Le leo ke Lebitso.

Mysterious lights and deceiving shadows travel across the stage. The is a spiritual light that Tlhogi never catches. It always seems too late for him to get any closer to it. A powerful black, church voice of his mother (Senani Mamorare) ascends powerful melodies from backstage. “The line between forgiveness and peace. It drowns the anger within”.

Letlhogonolo eventually breaks away from his incarceration of expectations.

“A representation of one’s foundation or a source of being”. Lebitso: a physical theatre performance directed by two creative women, Tshepang Moticoe and Ragni Halle.

By Thandolwethu Gulwa