Review: The Shopping Dead, WhatsApp theatre at the vNAF – Virtual National Arts Festival 2020

Dates: Three performances July 2, 3 (7pm), July 4 at 11am

Platform: WhatsApp

Duration: One hour

Tickets: Free – sign up links follow below

✳ Booking info and production details follow after review

WhatsApp has become a platform for theatre during lockdown. The medium of what’s app is a relatively cheap and accessible mode of communication. It doesn’t require high speed internet and works well on a mobile phone. During lockdown, I have seen a few pieces of theatre on WhatsApp- which did not work for me- rants with memes and emoji’s- well-intentioned but a mess. So, I was excited when Faye Kabali-Kagwa contacted me about a play, The Shopping Dead which she is producing on WhatsApp. Kabali-Kagwa has been a project co-ordinator on international and local theatre festivals, such as NAF and Cradle of Creativity and with ASSITEJ South Africa. I know her work and I knew that she would tackle WhatsApp theatre with the impeccable attention to production values that she brings to live performance. Then I saw the creative team and cast involved and knew that this was this not going to be a random WhatsApp theatre interlude. I watched a preview of The Shopping Dead. Whoa! I loved it.

The play is set during lockdown – now- on the floor of a retail store, Mega Mart. We become voyeurs to a group chat conducted by four assistant managers. There is an intersection of the personal, political and retail.  The narrative is constructed around text, voice notes, GIFS, memes, and images. Photos include lockdown favourite affirmations – “Teamwork makes the dream work”. It is a broadcast group which means that viewers cannot chirp in – thank goodness- but are required to click on voice notes and links. It is interactive because one is required to click as each scene unfolds.

The Shopping Dead is exciting and innovative piece of theatre. It is satirical, funny and fun and snipes at topics around the pandemic and lockdown. That is getting rather cerebral. Toss that. The Shopping Dead is very cool theatre. Yes, I will use that word. It is contemporary and nails so much of what is going on around us. I would describe this as a radio play with benefits. Radio theatre is theatre of the mind. The listener is passive and can do the ironing or cooking while listening. With The Shopping Dead WhatsApp play, one is required to click on voice notes and other links. One becomes an active participant. I would recommend watching this on a phone and not on the computer. Part of the fun is to hold the device in the hand, palm up and click. One doesn’t get that, using the app on a computer. The narrative is fast – but not too quick – as each scene appears.

The text has been impeccably crafted by wordsmith, Ncumisa Ndimeni (an alumnus of The Market Theatre). The cast are all accomplished performers who are known for their skills in voice and body and this comes across in the voice notes. There is a killer voice note in the bird feed/stationery scene. It cracked me up.  I could see this developed into a full-on comedy sketch.

Each performer evokes a vivid sense of protagonist. I became immersed in the story and couldn’t wait to hear the next ping, signalling the next piece in the story.

Leaving aside the play, in general, WhatsApp group chats can become a mess. I think that was the problem of the other what’s app plays that I have watched. There was no containment. There was so much happening that I couldn’t keep track. It became incomprehensible. I got lost in the barrage of text, images and voice notes and did not get a sense of protagonists and story. The Shopping Dead, is a hoot on one level but it a piece of theatre which also makes hard hitting points about lockdown. I don’t want to plot spoil but let’s say that after watching/listening to this play, you might want to be very careful of shoppers when you are out there in the aisles. What happens when a mask comes off? I like the way that Ndimeni has subverted the construct that super markets are hot spots because workers are taking public transport and bringing in the virus to the shop floor. Uhhm, no, actually, the customers are vectors – often virulent ones. Be careful who you bump into in the aisle- especially Americans. Mask off and who knows what will happen. 

The Shopping Dead is one of the most exciting lockdown theatre pieces that I have seen – breaking new ground for what’s app as a potent digital stage. Do not miss. There is only room for 240 participants per performance. Nab your spot.

The Shopping Dead – production details and booking info at vNAF

Dates: July 2 and at 7pm and July 4 at 11am

The Shopping Dead, WhatsApp theatre – ticket and booking details

Dates: Three performances July 2, 3 (7pm), July 4 at 11am

Platform: WhatsApp

Tickets: Free. No charge to watch live performance at the vNAF

Sign up links:

⭐ Thursday July 2 at 7pm:

⭐ Friday July 3 at 7pm:

⭐ Saturday July 4 at 11am (

Booking link via NAF site:

Access: You will be able to enter the group from now until the performance begins. No one will be admitted into the group after the show begins

Number of tickets: The limit for each performance is 240 – so hurry and don’t miss out.

NAF link:

Production details for The Shopping Dead:

Director: Lesego Chauke

Writer: Ncumisa Ndimeni

Performers: Tankiso Mamabolo, Chris Djuma, Kathleen Stephens and Kiroshan Naidoo

Producer: Faye Kabali-Kagwa/Six Degrees From Home

Producer contact details:

NAF helpline and ‘chat’ online: Open between 7am and midnight or call between 9am and 10pm on 0860 002 000 or e-mail:

For more about how the vNAF, see article on TheCapeRobyn or see the NAF website.