Meet the director of all things spicy

By Jordan Stier

When Thembela Madliki was an undergrad at Rhodes University, she never imagined herself as a “drama kid”, rather a kid that did drama. “I was different from my BComm and BSc friends on one hand, but on the other I was different from the drama department kids. I don’t smoke, I’m not vegetarian, you know?” she laughs over her cup of coffee.

Her aspirations have  been clear since the day in first year when she first encountered the Young Directors’ Season (YDS) pieces. “I saw the seniors do their YDS, and direct plays, and what-what, and I just couldn’t wait to get there,” she says. And she has given it her all.


Her love for directing and creating theatre is evident as soon as she begins talking about it, her eyes sparkling at double the brightness, and her words flowing at double the pace. “From an early age, in high school, I just liked doing little Arts & Culture tasks. Just having an idea and seeing it live and happening,” she says. “That’s why I find directing so fulfilling. It’s one of the ways, you don’t have to say anything, but people know what you’re thinking. You put it on and it speaks for itself.”

She can’t wait for Nyanga, her YDS piece, to do just that.

Nyanga is for people who like spicy things,” she laughs. “There’s temptation. There’s seduction, and late night things happening.” The play is a South African take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

“I wanted to do The Crucible, but the direction changed, because witchcraft, and this kind of subject matter, is so relevant in South Africa. Nyanga creates its own world in this small South African village. It’s a little world where things are strange.”

Anyone who saw the Honours directors’ second term pieces will have seen a teaser for Nyanga. Thembela has devised that short piece into a longer play, with far more action, tension, and general narrative drift.

She prefers devising plays to covering existing scripts entirely, because of the journey the piece is able to take. “Because we’re devising, every day it changes. It shifts. It becomes something new.”

“It’s not just my piece,” she says, when talking about her cast. “It’s our piece. We’re working together here. Devising is not so much about writing a character as finding the character with that actor, as a team.”

Despite the constant alterations that come with devising a play, Thembela feels ready and excited for the production. “I can’t wait for people to come see it. It’s exciting to finally be living out my dream of having my own YDS piece.”

You can catch Nyanga and the rest of the YDS pieces at the Rhodes Drama department on the 11 and 12 September.

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