Percy Mtwa, the man behind Bopha!
Veteran playwright Percy Mtwa is writer and director of the critically acclaimed theatre classic BOPHA, which returns to stage three decades later at the South African State Theatre (SAST) from 25 May to 13 June 2021. The three-hander will feature legendary thespians Bheki Mkhwane and Tshallo Chokwe, and the industrious Terrence Ngwila.
The last time Mtwa directed the Bopha! was in 1987 at the Los Angeles International Festival, where the play became recipient of five Drama Critic Circle Awards for Best Play, Best Director and Best Actor for each of the three actors. After premiering at the Market Theatre in 1985 -featuring performers Radebe, Aubrey Moalosi and Sidney Khumalo- Bopha! proceeded to a national and international tour that included Swaziland, Scotland, England, USA, and Australia. In 1993, the play was adapted into a Hollywood film, which became American filmmaker Morgan Freeman’s directorial debut.
Conceived in 1984, Bopha’s conception was inspired by the black-on-black violence during demonstration against the launch of the Tri-cameral Parliament the year before, which Mtwa explains: “triggered memories of how my father, himself an ex-policeman, was expelled from the police force in the late 1950s for insubordination in his stubborn refusal to perform police duties that treated black people as victims of the law. The play was conceived as an endeavor to address the dilemma faced by black policemen and local government officials, including the negative impact apartheid had in black family lives whose loyalties were torn between conformity and/or resistance to apartheid.”
Bopha! (arrest/ resist/ stop) tells the story of a black family torn between loyalty to the apartheid police service and solidarity with anti-apartheid activism, where a schoolboy takes refuge into school political activism in an endeavor to protect his police father from harm because of his indifferent enforcement of apartheid laws against his own.
It Is not the first time Mtwa is directing work at the State Theatre. In 2006, he was invited to direct Woza Albert! another classic under his belt, which he workshopped with theatre maestro Mbongeni Ngema. The two regrouped for the play’s 40th Anniversary celebration at the State Theatre in 2019, which its tour featured runs in The Playhouse and The Baxter theatres. In 2001, Mtwa co-directed The Essence with Sello Maake for the Market Theatre and wrote and directed The Patriot in the same year. Last year, 2020 he was invited to present a Gibson Kente Memorial Lecture at the Mangosuthu University in Durban.
In 1996 Mtwa devised an African Renaissance Poetry Revue titled, The Song Of The Smoke, for FUBA’s 18th anniversary celebrations, which served to inspire former President Mbeki to deliver his African Renaissance speech in Japan in 1997, subsequent to which he was invited to co-author and direct the musical, The African Dream, for SABC as part of the African Renaissance Celebrations where former President Mbeki made his local speech on African Renaissance in 1998.
Bopha premiered at the Market Theatre in September 1985, featuring performers Aubrey Radebe, Aubrey Moalosi, Sidney Khumalo under Mtwa’s direction. The play proceeded to a national and international tour that included Swaziland, Scotland, England, USA, and Australia.
For today’s audiences, Mtwa believes the message in Bopha! is still relevant. “Black people still bear the burden of aggressive policing. The relevance of the play in South Africa today is demonstrated by universally unacceptable incidents like the Marikana shootings and those of many protesting students throughout the country. The story exudes with a pledge for the police to undergo a more and improved police training so they may exercise restraint in the manner that they deal with dissent by black people and rise above the legacy of the apartheid regime in demonstration of the spirit of reconciliation between the police and the communities they serve,” says Mtwa.
Tickets: Normal R120
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Issued by the South African State Theatre
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