Theatre fan: The Suit features seasoned actor Siyabonga Twala in the lead role. Picture: SUPPLIED
Theatre fan: The Suit features seasoned actor Siyabonga Twala in the lead role. Picture: SUPPLIED

Seasoned actor Siyabonga Twala has appeared in almost every soapie on South African television, but insists that good acting happens on the stage.

He is playing the lead role of a taxi owner in Mzansi Magic’s Isibaya and over the years, has had major roles in Isidingo, Generations, Scandal and Rhythm City, among others.

He is also on stage at the Market Theatre in the lead role of Philemon in The Suit, based on a short story by the late Sophiatown writer, Can Themba. Twala says he prefers theatre to television as it allows him to fully express himself as an artist.

"But you know, TV pays the bills more than the stage. TV is where the money is, although we are still underpaid as actors compared to the money we bring in to channels," he says.

"We deserve to have shares in some of these productions because TV channels actually make a lot of money and the catalysts for that are good actors. Getting only salaries from production companies is just not enough.

"Acting on soapies has been cheapened by producers who are unwilling to pay actors what they deserve. Instead, they would rather have non-trained actors to play a role and pay them little money.

"This is, in a way, an extraordinary display of a lack of respect for the acting profession," he says.

Twala slammed so-called celebrities dabbling as actors who earn more money in television than trained actors.

"Most of these people are not actors at all and cannot act. Being famous is not the same as being a good actor.

"The fact that when people meet you in the streets, they scream does not mean that you are a good actor. It simply means that you are on TV.

"To illustrate this, people will also scream when they meet a soccer player, not necessarily because he is a good player, but because he appears on TV."

Twala says some shows have been canned because of bad acting by so-called celebrity actors.

"I am not a celebrity, I am an actor and you will never see me attending every function in town to play some silly celebrity game," he says.

The Suit — adapted for the stage by Mothobi Motloatse and the late Barney Simon in the 1980s with Sello Maake Ka-Ncube playing the lead role — is based in Sophiatown in the 1950s and 1960s.

The story revolves around a couple whose marriage is in trouble. Although Maake Ka-Ncube first played the role to critical acclaim, Twala says he is bringing his own unique style to the play.

"Audiences who might have seen it in the past must not expect the same thing. I am bringing in my own interpretation of the character. It is quite challenging though," Twala says.

Although at face value the play is about infidelity, it is also about how apartheid destroyed the social fabric of those living in Sophiatown, resulting in a number of social ills, such as said infidelity.

Besides producing some of the most interesting journalistic pieces of the 1950s and the 1960s, Themba was also one of the country’s finest short-story writers.

This year marks 50 years since his death and the Market Theatre is celebrating his life and talent with a Can Themba season. In January, it staged The House of Truth, a piece of theatre about Themba’s life penned by Siphiwo Mahala, and had Maake Ma-Ncube playing solo to critical acclaim.

The House of Truth is now on at the Soweto Theatre.

The Suit is directed by the Market Theatre’s artistic director, James Ngcobo, who says the job is a dream but one that also brings sleepless nights.

This piece of theatre has been staged repeatedly because of its timeless message and was even made into a film starring the Kani dynasty — John and Atandwa Kani.

The current cast comprises Twala, Zola Nombona, Lindani Nkosi, Molefi Monaisa, Andile Nebulane and Lesedi Motladi.

The Suit is at the Market Theatre until May 28.

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