A Man and A Dog

Seen on July 2, 2016 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

One of the pieces I missed out last year, returned to my delight. Curious to see this Fleur du Cap nomination and Standard Bank Ovation Award winner for myself I wanted to see for myself.

As the rest of the audience is still entering Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi poses as a dog, sniffing, growling, finding lampposts and jumping into somebody’s lap. Dressed in black, with no decor he is quite convincing, almost disturbingly so.

But there is not only a dog, there is a man as well. A Man and A Dog is a retelling that weaves together different stories. Picturing a man and a dog you immediately think about loyalty and friendship, but this coming of age story is also about growing up without a father and having no family to call your own. Just as dogs are chased away from a land when a community wants to build a new settlement, this treatment of not being wanted is lamented in the play. But in Zulu tradition dogs also are the guards between the visible and invisible worlds. Doors are kept outside to be the ears and protect for danger. Dreaming about dogs is interpreted as the ancestors calling to give a message.

When the man has arrived at his third father he is treated like a dog and when a choice has to be made between the two of them he opts to hang the dog. This is an ultimate act of vengeance as it closes any future mediation with the ancestors. A sacrifice of a faithful friend in order to spare one’s own life.

A Man and A Dog is a multi-layered and rich tapestry of images, songs, theatre and roles magnificently played by Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi trying to find a place in the world of family and ancestors, humans and spirits. Pain in different roles. Superb theatre.

Definitely a must see.

Photography: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala – National Arts Festival 2016