SAINTHOOD. Written and directed by Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni. With Adam Lennox, Tevin Musara, Mphumzi Nontshinga, Simphiwe Shabalala and Cullum McCormack. Baxter.


Overheard at the Baxter whilst watching a performance of Sainthood: “That is just what my school was like! Shoo, this is deep, hey?”

Muuted oohs and aahs of recognition from an audience of mostly young adults were a common feature of my experience of Sainthood. It felt that there was a clear sense of empathy that came from not only the males, but also the females present. And if anything were to point to this production being a very good idea for local schools to attend, this was just one reason.

Another would be the very recent events at a school just down the road from this theatre, which has once again raised issues of race and otherness, specifically in previously majority-white (and privileged) schools. Not to mention events at other schools ranging from hair restrictions to sexual assault. This stuff needs to be out there, and interrogated, and worked through. Sainthood is the kind of production that very naturally lends itself to after-performance discussion and debate. I hope that schools take this up.

On the cusp of adulthood

Created and directed by Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni, after a period of research and workshopping, the play focuses on a quintet of boys who attend the prestigious (and fictional) Saint Gabriel’s school. They’re saints, as such – referring to private schools which usually have saint in their name. Or they could be called the same as a chess piece, I guess. Or be featured in a series of books/films that is named for a potato. You know the type of school we’re talking about here.

Sainthood: Baxter

Anyway, the pupils are in their final year, on the cusp of adulthood – and facing a shed-load of pressure, be it from hiding their sexual orientation to striving to assert their identity. The distinct rhythms and rituals of private schooling in South Africa are brought to the fore as the five challenge themselves, their friendships and their familial expectations. In this pressure-cooker environment, things are bound to burst …

Mashifane wa Noni has done an impressive job with her equally impressive young cast, weaving physical theatre into dialogue that feels unaffectedly authentic, with both comedic and poignant edges. Energetic choreography makes the scene transitions smooth and exciting, while use of a kind of group chant-speak to denote adult/traditional/societal opinion was clever. And the cast is an absolute joy to watch, all of them.

Sainthood makes for a short, sharp theatrical intervention that is indeed entertaining, but also offers so much more. For audiences in general – but parents, learners, teachers in particular – there’s plenty to get engaged with.

What: Sainthood

Where and when: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, Baxter from 6 to 23 February 2019