Theatre Review: Diaparo Tsa Mama – Sisters Saddened, Or Too Late For Mama

March 26, 2022

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Diaparo Tsa Mama / Directed by Rorisang Motuba / John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg


For an intimate story about three sisters struggling with their individual and collective grief after the loss of their mother, the idea of making a big theatre smaller feels like a good fit. Diaporo Tsa Mama (My Mother’s Clothes) plays out on a raised platform placed on the John Kani Theatre stage, surrounded by seating on three sides (the fourth is a recessed part of the set, giving the space an extra bit of depth).

The set and the wardrobe meld into one, with a rail, a couple of baskets and a large suitcase all laden with a selection of vintage dresses, which are redistributed over the double bed at the centre of the scene and a couch set to one side throughout the play. The action opens with two sisters – played by Dimpho More and Ziaphora Dakile – sitting in what was the room last occupied by their late mother, who recently succumbed to an illness.

The many, many dresses being laid out, folded, moved, examined and moved again give the play a fascinating visual texture, as well as beginning to bring the audience into part of the same headspace as the characters: their job is to play a role in the choosing of a suitable outfit in which to bury their mom, and it’s difficult for onlookers to not pick out their personal favourites as the props are displayed in various ways.

Everything takes place in that space; a long, factious discussion between first two and then three sisters (the eldest, played by Lesoko Seabe, arrives a little later). As such, there’s no real plot in the conventional sense. Something sad and substantial has happened, and it is affecting – in real time – the emotions and interactions of three people. Why it works – and is powerful – is because, though we all grieve differently, we have all lost someone or something that mattered immensely to us, and/or which played an important role in our lives. And we know that the way we grieve is not the same as the way others grieve, even as we’re aware that it often takes time to discern what those differences are.

So as the sisters bicker, then joke, then attack each other, then laugh, then collapse, then lift each other again, their journey worries, amuses, scares and ultimately moves those who observe it. All three performers do a superb job, with Dakile arguably the standout, though Seabe’s response to her character finally realising the extent of her loss is a high (or low, depending on your response to the emotions) point in the play.

A thoughtful, meditative (if meditation can be loud occasionally) production that keeps you engaged, even if the range of the tale is kept narrow by design.

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