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​The play that brings home the brutal reality of abuse

The opening night of the hour-long Mhla Salamana (When Our Eyes Met) at the Soweto Theatre had everyone in the audience enthralled, rapturously applauding award-winning young director Thando Doni and his equally youthful cast from Cape Town.
There is no way the opening scene of the play – the haunting screams of an abused woman and those of her son, who tries desperately to defend his mother from his abusive, alcoholic and cheating father – cannot grab your attention.

Doni tells a universal story of an almost near-perfect relationship torn apart by abuse, violence and infidelity. It is a story of a couple whose love for each other and their child cannot withstand the weight of infidelity. The music by Khayelitsha-based Muiziek Sensation also moves and captivates you.

The young musicians were in their best throughout the play. As members of the audience rushed to their seats after the final curtain call, Asanda Rilityana, who plays Zanele, lay still. She didn’t move for what seemed like eternity.

Patched on a chair to her right is her son, Olwethu, played by Aphiwe Menziwa. In front of them stand a barefooted six-member acapella outfit. They hum, then break into song and swing in unison. Mkhulisi Richard Tafane, who plays Melikhaya – Zanele’s volatile, abusive and foul-mouthed husband – sits quietly between two singers on the left, fidgeting.

Then the play erupts into a brutal, high-tempo, hard-hitting and honest assessment of relationships. An emotional rollercoaster whose message is very clear, the play will hopefully provoke a conversation about how we can end the cycle of violence and abuse.

Doni was elated at the audience’s reaction. “The opening night went really well. This play speaks to the people. The message is real. It forces us to relook at our relationships, how we see ourselves. This gives us the opportunity to redefine our roles as partners and as parents and how our actions affect our children. We live in a different time and as men we have to understand that our actions have consequences.

“If we don’t change our attitudes towards women we will end up like our fathers, and our sons will end up like us. I don’t think we want to continue on that trajectory,” he said.

The opening night was perfect timing, too, coming as it did a few days before International Women’s Day yesterday [Sunday]. Rilityana, who recently returned from Brussels, was fantastic. She said the message needed to get out.

“Women should not be afraid to let go of things they hold dear. They should leave abusive relationships and trust that they are powerful on their own, and are capable of raising their children. Staying in abusive relationships because they are afraid of being judged by family and society, or because of a false sense of security, is wrong. This show is saying it’s OK to leave. It’s also OK to talk about what’s going on [in your relationship],” she said.

Mhla Salamana runs until March 22. Performances are at 11am and 8pm from Thursday to Saturday and at 3pm on Sundays. Tickets are R50 for adults and R30 for students. –Doreen Zimbizi.