On Saturday evening, the finals of the 2017 edition of the President’s Day competitions under the categories of Comedy and Drama were held at the Mantlwaneng Theatre in Westwood International School.
The event that in the past has proven to be one of the most sought after in the competition attracted a sizeable number of audiences. Over time, it has become obvious that a venue such as Mantlwaneng is not sufficient to hold the capacity of audiences that come in large numbers.
This year was even worse, by 1830HRS, the entrance and exit gates into the venue were under lockdown. Desperate fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite acts in action were turned away from the gates in what organisers hoped would ensure that the right number of audiences was admitted into the venue.
Lasting till after midnight, the event comprised eight performers under the comedy category and four drama groups. But the night belonged to the funny men. While in the past, there was a disappointing development in this category, this year, a number of performers who made it through the final leg of the competition came prepared for battle. A good number of them were ready to conquer the big stage and topple the reigning kings of the stage.
New boys of comedy such as third runner up, Augustus Philemon (Francstown), second runner up Boniface Phetolo (Ghanzi), and crowd favourite, Bokamoso Nthompe (who emerged victorious) were in their element, serving punch line after punch line. Long before the other acts took to the stage it was crystal clear that the trio had secured its place in the top three. No one was save from this trio not even the first citizen, Thapelo Olopeng or Dorcus Makgato.
Some even went as far as taking the recent social media fight between Jujuvine and Amantle Montsho and sent the crowd into laughter heaven. This is what comedy is all about, the ability to take a situation that almost escalated out of control, and being able to look at it in a lighter and more chilled approach, without any nasty and unsavoury elements.
However, something that was an eyesore was seeing how some of them appeared to have been lazy in their preparations or did not meet any strong competition on their way to the finals. This gave them the somewhat impression that they were the best which was not always the case.
Others, guilty of repeating materials and even the props that they had previously shared such as one of the big boys of comedy namely Mawee born Oefile Mokgware was defeated seconds into his performance. By the time that the likes of Mawee and his counterparts namely, Gaokantswe Elijah going by the stage name Ouza from Maun, as well as Sindimba Shitah also from Maun bit the dust fair and square. It was such a sad day to see Mawee who for years had been one of the feared acts unable to regain his thunder from previous years, and try to salvage his set.
For him, it appeared as if the allocated 7 minutes for each performer was eternity. Eventually, he admitted on stage, that there was nothing that they could do as young boys were now stealing his material. So the big question would be why he was not being creative and coming up with new material? A good performer knows that when push comes to a shove, one has to think on their feet and find creative means to maintain the attention of his/her audience instead of resorting to whining.
For years, the trio has been regulars in the finals of the competition and Shitah was the defending champion. And his material did not come closer to that of someone who wished to defend his championship. Shitah would later be seen murmuring to himself outside the venue about how tough the competition was this year. Ouza who has been experiencing some bad luck in the competition and having had to resign to defeat last year minutes into his performance, still continued to go downhill and did not show any level of growth.
Moving on to drama, this was once more a sad day for drama in the country. The recent introduction of one script for all drama groups still proves to be a major challenge for groups. The groups were performing a play titled Sebaga written by Edward Moroka and Neelo Lentebane. As in the past, it was torture to sit through 80 minutes (each group is assigned 20 minutes) and try and concentrate on what was happening on stage.
While one or two groups were not that bad, others were just all over the place. Filling the stage with useless props that did not add value to their performance, there were moments where some audience members could have walked off if they had the liberty to do so. Others in their overzealous attempt to try to win points with the judges, just lost the plot and were a sorry sight. This then begs the question of why over the years other established groups have not been seen at the competition.
And how some of these groups make it through the finals, even with their display of lack of creativity, is a question of trying to find a representative for a particular region, or hoping that they will polish their act. Something that has also become crystal clear is the fact that some of these clearly need established mentors to drill them on the craft of drama, otherwise we might as well forget about drama in the country. Tse Dikgolo House of Theatre from Mmakgodi emerged victorious, seconded by Mahalapye Theatre. Chobe Arts group (Kasane) and Serala Multi Cultural Troupe (Hukuntsi) came third and fourth respectively.