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Preview: The Suitcase at Newcastle Northern Stage

The Market Theatre Johannesburg presents
The Suitcase
Newcastle Northern Stage
Thursday 14th - Saturday 16thSeptember 2017

Adapted and Directed by James Ngcobo from a short story by Es’kia Mphahlele
Featuring live music composed and written by Hugh Masekela

The Suitcase brings together a unique partnership of venues in the North of England and the Market Theatre Johannesburg, marking the internationally renowned theatre company’s return to the UK after a five year absence. This partnership, the first of its kind, enables international work to be performed across five northern cities, sharing programming and strengthening audience development. The tour has been made possible through National Lottery Funding from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring programme.

It’s a story never more relevant to our time, exploring issues of identity, migration, exile and celebration of the human spirit. The show will have its UK premiere at Hull Truck Theatre (31 August–9 September) as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017’s Freedom season before touring to Newcastle (14-16 September), Derby (20-23 September), Lancaster (27-29 September) and Liverpool (4-8 October).

1950s South Africa. A young newly married couple leave their rural village and disapproving family for the city of Durban. Their goal: to return home rich and free. But, alienated in the city, unemployed and poor, Timi starts to lose his moral compass. Desperate to provide for his pregnant wife, he steals a suitcase left on a bus not knowing what might be inside; an act which brings frightening consequences, dramatic twists and unexpected turns.

Based on a true story, The Suitcase has been nominated in the New Director category in the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards for The Rosalie van der Gucht Prize. Director James Ngcobo saw enormous theatrical potential in this poignant and emotive story and so adapted it for the stage. The production - evocative, visual and moving - encompasses African storytelling and lyrical music at its very best.

The Market Theatre Johannesburg, known internationally as ‘Theatre of the Struggle’, challenged the apartheid regime and dared to stand up against social injustice, acting as a vital and powerful voice for freedom and emancipation. Its 21 international and over 300 South African theatre awards bear testament to the courage and artistic quality of its work. Today, the Market Theatre remains at the forefront of South African performance, actively encouraging new productions to reach international stages.

The decision to tour The Suitcase in the UK was inspired by Hull Truck Theatre’s visit to South Africa in 2015. Hull Truck Theatre Mark Babych (Artistic Director) and Jill Adamson (Director of Engagement and Learning) visited as part of a group of delegates to promote artistic exchange between the North East of England and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, funded by the Swallow Foundation.

Playwright Es’kia Mphahlele is among South Africa’s greatest writers, thinkers and critics. Respected worldwide as a literary luminary, he has published many short stories, essays and novels dealing with issues of race and South Africa’s changing society.

Composer Hugh Masekela is a legendary Grammy Award-winning South African musician, best known for writing anti-apartheid songs including Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela).

James Ngcobo
Director James Ngcobo became the first black artistic director of Market Theatre Johannesburg in 2013, and continues to enhance the theatre’s worldwide reputation for artistic greatness. He has a passion for working with undiscovered actors, young designers and artists to tell new South African stories.

Mark Babych, Artistic Director at Hull Truck Theatre, says: ‘It’s been a long-held ambition to work with the Market Theatre Johannesburg. As a young director, they opened my eyes to the power of theatre as they battled with the human tragedy of the apartheid years – inspired by the work of Athol Fugard, Barney Simon and the breath-taking power of performers like John Kani, Winston Ntshona, Percy Mtewa and Mbongeni Ngema. The Market Theatre still holds a special place in my heart. It’s a dream come true to welcome this wonderful company to our city as part of our 2017 programme, and to share the UK premiere of The Suitcase across five great cities.’

James Ngcobo, Artistic Director at Market Theatre Johannesburg, says:  ‘We are so excited that we are about to visit the UK with a story set in South Africa - yet anyone can relate to this universal tale of a man who wants to change his life. Whenever we perform this piece, people have always said that there are clear parallels with their own lives when they witness how Timi's life unfolds. This tour is happening this year all because of the buckets of passion that Mark Babych has brought to the idea of a piece from South Africa coming to Hull in such a landmark year. We are looking forward to bringing the story by the prolific Professor Eskia Mphahlele to Hull and the Northern tour after that - this visit is the gateway to the beginning of a relationship with Hull Truck Theatre, a relationship that will carry on past this tour.’

The cast includes acclaimed television and stage actor Siyabonga Thwala as Timi Ngobese, (South African TV dramas Isindigo, Rhythm City and Generation), Masasa Mbangeni as Namhla Ngobese (South African Film and Television Awards ‘Best Actress’ for role in TV drama Scandal!; BBC’s Silent Witness), John Lata as Pitso (sketch comedy series Dube on 2 and Dube on 2 – Reloaded; sitcom My Perfect Family), and Desmond Dube as Mlotshwa (United Artists and Lions Gate Films’ Hotel Rwanda; BBCand HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.)

Praise for The Suitcase:
Once you’ve seen this production once you just have to go and see it again” – Time Out, Soweto
It’s pure theatre at its best- The Star Tonight Review (South Africa)

Tickets and performance details:
Thur 14 Sept, 6pm
Fri 15 Sept, 7.30pm
Sat 16 Sept, 2pm & 7.30pm
Tickets from £10
Tickets and Information:0191 230 5151 or online from

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