Nguni: A Love Story, on the Grahamstown fringe festival, is a comic exploration of the relationship between love and cattle in changing times. The sentiment of the piece is expressed aptly in the words of the character Somandla, played by Nhlanhla Mavundla, who proclaims: “Nguni, the voice of my past, the voice of my future”.
The work raises the tensions between the rights of women and some aspects of Zulu tradition, particularly the paying of lobola, as well as the tension between rural and urban lives.
Nguni was inspired by the paintings of Nguni cattle by Leigh Voigt, at present being exhibited at the Thomas Pringle Hall in Grahamstown as part of the main festival, as well as the book The Abundant Herds by Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Took.
Being performed at the Pony Club, the venue is perfect, and the set welcomes one with a wood fire, hay stacks, sand spirals, a rural backdrop burnt into wooden board and a few resident flies. The pace and tone are joyous, and the performance is punctuated by wonderful moments, such as the wide-eyed cow, played by Zandile Mutswana, emerging from a wooden box. There are also passages of sharp, witty dialogue.
Yet, overall the piece has a haphazard feel to it, with the story drifting around but never really finding its locus. The performances, while entertaining, often lapse into ham-acting. The warmth and exuberance of the piece are attractive, but one is left with the feeling that the complexity of the themes being explored are only superficially dealt with and the potential of the piece is, as yet, not fully realised.