News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday January 20th 2019

Singing of the rain

Review: Tin Bucket Drum

The smell of the first drops of rain raising the dust on the highveld seems to go straight to the primitive nerve centre, unleashing a tide of memories gathered in our DNA over aeons of drought and plenty.

It holds the promise of harvest, of relief and better things to come.

While the Cape is imbued with its own special beauties that assail the senses, the inexplicable joy transmitted by the charged negative ions of a thunderstorm is one it has to hand to the interior.

Governed by the long wet winters of the sea, summer thunderstorms are not its province.

Yet so evocative was the opening sequence of Neil Coppen’s Tin Bucket Drum that even though I was sitting a stone’s throw from the very ocean that denies us Capetonians the beauty of the flash and thunder that ride across the escarpment upon the cumulonimbus’s anvil, I could smell the dust raised by the phalanx of heavy raindrops, see the muddy streams begin their flow along the footpaths.

It was a promise of good things to come that remained fulfilled. The seeds sown by the prologue grew into a rich harvest of storytelling, sound and imagery that had me thoroughly immersed in the world of the young heroine Nomvula.

Although Mpume Mthombeni is the single actress who expertly plays all the characters, including young Nomvula, her mother, their benefactor, and the awful tyrant who demands they live in silence and whose presence signifies an everlasting dry season, the delicate and often comic interplay between her and just-off stage percussionist Wake Maholobo make this a two-hander that weaves between tragedy and humour.

Mahlobo not only provides a real-time soundtrack, his percussive interaction provides a counterpoint to Nomvula’s life where speech is allowed, but no music.

Having won the standing ovation award at the National Arts Festival in 2010 and toured New York to acclaim, Tin Bucket Drum employs the shadow work writer and designer Neil Coppen used to good effect in Abnormal Loads, the play he put together as 2011Standard Bank Young Artist.

In fact Tin Bucket Drum was likely a significant factor in his winning the award.

Director Karen Logan deserves mention for not letting attention fade for a second in this tale of African magic that, while its storyline has echoes of Footloose, makes that popular ‘80s movie look like it emerged from a cultural sandpit from which the rain long since departed. — Steve Kretzmann

Tin Bucket Drum is on at the Kalk Bay Theatre until September 8. Go to for bookings and information.


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