Directed by Sibongeleni James Ngcobo, The Suitcase is the story of the universal struggle for a better life. Immediately relatable, it is easy to see life from the point of view of Timi (Siyabonga Caswell Thwala) and Namhla (Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni) as they travel away from their home village and disapproving parents to the big city to find a new home where happiness will thrive.
But this is 1950s Africa: Apartheid, anarchy, desperation, disorientation and suffering all await this young hopeful couple. Arriving in the big city, Timi and Namhla experience a sharp shock of reality as they are disorientated by the noise and technology now surrounding them. They are told by the first person they speak to that they need to lose their naïve village attitude and not to trust anyone around them.
Making use of highly stylised movement, expertly executed mime, haunting song and narration delivered in a traditional African storyteller manner, The Suitcase creates the atmosphere of the big dusty city on a small stage. Distance between characters stood feet apart feels massive, the tiny dusty cramped room in which Timi and Namhla make their city home feels claustrophobic and the hustle and bustle of a noisy crowded city is in full swing.
Timi and Namhla start out with a pocket full of hope, dreams, and determination to succeed. The distant rainbow is soon drowned out in hues of grey and their relationship is pushed to breaking point. The pain that the characters are feeling is cleverly shown by the actors’ body language and tone of voice, creating a realistic atmosphere immediately familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to pay the bills, conveying a sense of pragmatism which is shocking in its poignancy.
The Suitcase is a story of hope of a better life and the struggle to get that better life. It is the story of simple pleasures: the rising of the sun, the smile of the one you love, the taste of fresh food. But at its core, it is a boy meets girl story. A love conquers all story. A running away to the city to seek your fortune story. A story that has been told over and over again, and never loses its appeal because it is the story of life and the human condition.
The storytellers (Molatlhegi Desmond Dube and Nhlanhla John Lata) are embedded into the story, both playing various characters and often providing the comic relief that makes this such a true story because even in the most desperate times, life goes on sadness and suffering do not plague every minute.
The music expertly adds another layer to the story and creates the tangible atmosphere of this world. It is provided by guitarist Bhekisisa Sifiso Makhosonke Khoza and singers Gugulethu Shezi, Penelope Nomfundo Sambo and Nokukhanya Gugulethu Dlamini.
Just when it doesn’t seem possible for things to get any worse, Timi takes a huge chance. A suitcase is left on the bus and he becomes convinced that this is the thing that will change his desperate situation. So he takes it. People on the bus shout that it isn’t his and he declares that it is before running away and straight into an unexpected dramatic twist that will change his and Namhla’s lives forever.
What is inside the suitcase and was the chance worth taking?