Review: When We Awake- achingly poignant, lyrical, nuanced, drawing vividly from oral storytelling Intsomi (isiXhosa) and games

When We Awake

Where: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio
When: February 28 to March 4, 2023 (8pm and Saturday, March 4 at 3pm and on Thursday, March 2 at 11am)
Writer/director: Nwabisa Plaatjie
Performers: Nolufefe Ntshutshe and Sisipho Mbopa
Bookings: Webtickets or see
Info: e-mail    

When We Awake written and directed by Nwabisa Plaatjie is on in the Baxter Theatre Golden Arrow Studio, until March 4, 2023. Plaatjie’s two hander is achingly poignant and so sad and as an audience member in front of me, enthused, “beautiful”. Which version of lost women do we believe? But does it matter? They remain lost – no matter the way the narrative is spinned- in the game of life. Plaatjie’s writing is lyrical, nuanced and draws powerfully from oral storytelling (Instomi – isiXhosa) and games – which are played – stories skipped and tossed around.  When We Awake at the Baxter 2023, is a very short season, so this is quickie review. There is a lot to say and I am only scraping the surface here but I want to alert people to see When We Awake as it wraps up Saturday – March 4.

Plaatjie is also in the director’s seat. I saw this play, in February 2020, prior to pandemic lockdown in the Baxter Masambe and here it is in February 2023 in the Golden Arrow Studio. The text was workshopped with the cast and creatives in live performance and the strands were woven together by Plaatjie. It has been tightened- narrative and movement (choreography by co-producer Faniswa Yisa) and lighting design has been plotted by Mannie Manim. It is loadshedding compliant – ie it been designed to work seamlessly even when the generator is on, which is challenging for the lighting designer. Manim lights the performers with a hard-edged focus. There is no blurring or soft focus and that is perfectly in synch with what we see on stage as Plaatjie presents us with a hard-hitting narrative, with no fuzzy edges being or blurring.

The performers from 2020 are reprising their roles -Nolufefe Ntshuntshe and Sisipho Mbopa – and they bring a heightened energy and rage to their characters and yet it is contained and restrained. Kudos to director and choreographer for pacing and for tempering the rage. To cite the Bard: It IS full of sound and fury – and it signifies – a lot.

I wrote in 2020, that this piece of theatre is an urgent howl: Men who behave like dogs, deserve to be treated like dogs. Yes. They do. From 2020 to 2023, in the fallout from the pandemic, #GBV has got worse.  The slap of the play is even more urgent. How do we navigate our way from fear to safety? Take an Uber and will you arrive at your destination? Let’s not even go into transport in Cape Town and women who are the most vulnerable. When we are in a state of being awake, how do we process and distil it all? Which version do we believe or pretend to believe? The call-out, the urgency of the howl: Wake up! Do not be complicit in glossing over rupture. Look around and be awake at all times to the fissures around us. Communing in the theatre is a vital space for imaging the uncomfortable, the shame, the loss of humanity, which needs to be spoken about. The urgency is to address and become immersed in the uncomfortable. Plaatjie as scribe, as director, as producer, as all round theatre maker; gathers us together, at the coalface and nudges us to wake up.

What I found interesting in this staging- is how being a man – manning up so to speak – is fraught with issues. But still, at the end, where is the accountability? This is what matters.  A standing ovation on opening night – an ovation with deep appreciation for what we witnessed- loss – fear -the search for reclamation.  Within the pain, there is laughter, sisterhood, shared moments of fun. 

Bravo to the team for taking the play from its first staging to this season, which is part of Plaatjie’s project, An Artist is Made. Central to the project is community, collaboration, skill sharing, celebration of what we have and how we can unite to enhance our humanity – share stories – have important conversations. 

Nwabisa’s Plaatjie’s play Ziyana will be on March 7-12, 2023, at Theatre Arts, also part of An Artist is Made initiative. 

Creative engagement: Nwabisa Plaatjie (centre) with Faniswa Yisa (left) and Ntshadi Mofokeng (right), opening night, February 28, 2023 of Plaatjie’s play, When We Awake, Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, Cape Town. Plaatjie is the writer/director. Yisa is co-priducer and choreographer. Mofokeng is a cultural activist and her day job is at The Institute of Creative Arts at UCT. Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen,

✳Featured image Nolufefe Ntshutshe and Sisipho Mbopa in We are Awake, supplied. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: Review from February 2020,