By Ziliro Mchulu:
The current upsurge of theatre performances has shifted from stallion platforms of entertainment to centres of enlightenment and dramatisation of critical issues affecting the masses. Theatre has made itself a relevant genre of literature by being realistic, critical and free in a bid to meet the society’s constant changing dealings.
Two weeks ago, Mzuzu University Theatre Heights Ensemble (Muthe) staged a play titled Love Potion, a piece that sounds like a cliché but is relevant on stage.
Set in the current Malawi, the play centres on one Batulumeyo, who made it in life from a humble beginning. The man Batulumeyo sensationalises the status of many graduates who complain of lack of jobs without challenging themselves to use knowledge acquired from the university.
Batulumeyo works on his Information Communication Technology knowledge and develops software whose intellectual property rights change his story from rags to riches.
However, drama starts when Batulumeyo, a role played by final-year Bachelor of Arts Education student Gilbert Maombe, marries and the wife, under the influence of her mother, involves the services of a love potion to cement their love.
While many expected a whole love affair, the play has twists and turns on stage by being unpredictable and real.
In terms of realism, the play demonstrates the real social causes of the problems facing the country. The play dramatises the failures of the Tonse Alliance-led administration by reviewing how it has performed in one year.
On record, the authorial intrusion was observed through Sitiwe, a role played by Monica Kanyowa. Through her soft voice, which failed to defeat the jam-packed auditorium, Sitiwe talks to the authorities by reminding the government of failed promises.
In a conversation with her brother Batulumeyo, they question the myth of one million jobs and free laptops for first- year university students.
“They pledged that they will promote science and technology for a knowledge-based economy by the removal of relevant taxes to reduce the cost of data by over 70 percent; furnish every new qualifying university student with a personal laptop and provide public universities and other public spaces with access to free broadband internet service.
Koma pano kuli ziiiiiii. Akungotafuna masausage mmanyumba mwawo. Kapena alipo wa first year amene analandilapo? They are nowhere to be seen; otherwise, it is everyone by themselves.”
This question attracted a reaction from the audience since it prompted them to reflect on the situation and see if, indeed, something to that effect has been done.
The play fearlessly achieved an awareness of the suffering and exploitation of the masses by different sectors including religious groups. The play takes the spectators to the shrine by presenting the perceived wrong things being done by prophets in the name of Jesus Christ.
The play, through Dr Nkhwezule, reveals that many of the so-called prophets are meree witch doctors practising magic in church. A combination of Jones K, as the witchdoctor, and Kadzidzi brought realism of witchcraft to the stage.
The setting of the shrine intensified the realism and reflects the seriousness of the rehearsal and stage-setting. The shrine has three demons in the background and drummers, who make the audience who have ever visited witchdoctors to remember the memories while some oriented themselves.
The performance was also critical in terms of how it interacted with the dramatised issues. One could visualise the relationship between the script and actors. Theatre becomes critical when it attempts, through dialogue, to perceive causes of society’s problems and pose alternative solutions.
The play, through Mai Dzungu, presents a problem, as regards men being unfaithful to their wives, and offers a solution. The play takes a feminist perspective by showing two women helping each other to deal with patriarchy.
Mai Dzungu, played by Bridget Monjeza, and her daughter Angela Ngolombe agreed to use a love potion (Khudzumule) to tame Batulumeyo. This demonstrates the feminist idea of sisterhood. The play pressurises women to join hands in dealing with patriarchy. Ironically, a man, Dr Nkhwezule, orchestrates the move of casting a spell on the other man.
The play further creates a critical consciousness in the people, which will result in a critical attitude to the reality which oppresses them. The play brought in the minds of the audience and the actors themselves the reality of politics.
The production presented books and theories that politicians use to hoodwink the masses into voting them into power.
“Politicians read books on how they can gain power and control the minds of people. I have read such books myself— Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, George Orwell’s Animal farm, Robert Green’s 48 Laws of Power, Thomas Jefferson’s The Art of Power and the list goes on.
“They read these books and apply their principles to hoodwink the masses mum,” voiced Batulumeyo in response to another disillusioned character Mama Batu. This served to inform the audience about the reality of what the Tonse Alliance-led administration is; too much talk, little action.
Christianity consciousness is hit hard in the play; the local witchdoctor is presented as the prince of peace and not the pastor of Jesus. At the perceived funeral of Batulumeyo, Dr Nkhwezule reveals to the people that Batulumeyo is not dead and brings him back to his senses.
In a dramatic twist of events, Dr Nkhwezule, through the spirits of Okombo, reveals to mourners the nucleus behind Batulumeyo’s funeral. It is from these magic voices that the audience is told that the love potion given to Batulumeyo came with strings attached and failure to meet the conditions forced the witchdoctor to spill the beans.
This is ironic because people expected ‘men of God’ to be on top of their brains in knowing wrong things through vision and prophecy, yet Pastor Moyo was embarrassed by the witchdoctor for preaching at the funeral of a live person. The audience questioned this move by the playwright Peter Machilika since it showed the popular God as a failure and trashed his own personal belief since he is a staunch catholic.
In terms of dramatic freedom, the performance used a structure and method of functioning that made it to be part of the people. The critical issues expressed in the play directly affect the audience and it helped them to think critically on issues happening around them. The play had artistic voices and lines that mirrored the current Malawi and Mzuni.
With a well-choreographed music system, the play artistically fused music and drama which go hand-in-hand. The sound effects helped to bring realism on stage and the songs helped the audience to relate to the issues.
The costume and stage setting created a picture of how serious the theatre group is. By bringing a real coffin on stage, actors showed the audience that they are moving with realism and have the capacity of turning lines into actions that people can digest and appreciate.
Muthe drama group is, surely, making strides in the theatre world. The politics of love potion just reminded us that we need to fix this nation.
*The play was written and directed by Peter Machilika, a level five Optometry student who joined Muthe in 2016. He has made five Muthe appearances on stage as well as writing and directing three plays for Muthe