Based on Es’kia Mphahlele’s short story, written in the midst of South African apartheid regime, The Suitcase follows a young married couple hoping and hunting for a better life. Originally placed and still set in the 1950s, Timi and Namhla leave their rural home for Durban, pursuing work in the city. United in their optimism and clearly in love, everything is new to the pair, and although there are no guarantees, once they obtain a flat and Timi begins the search for work, the future looks rosy.
Time passes and no work materialises. The apartheid regime has meant a jobless Durban, and gradually Timi’s optimism fades. The couple’s love becomes strained, and with little choice, they make plans to return to their village. When Timi sees a suitcase left on a train, he takes it for himself and his wife, hoping it will provide the big break in life they have been searching for.
Accompanied by music throughout, The Suitcase manages to bring you into its world with ease. Composed by Hugh Masekela, simple yet poignant arrangements of guitar and voice add beautifully to the energy on stage without ever taking over. The cast on the whole is strong, with special mention for the leads Siyabonga Caswell Thwala as Timi and Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni as Namhla. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment that when Namhla sheds tears towards the end of the piece, much of the audience concurs. The piece is also beautifully directed by James Ngcobo, taking the audience through every mood from joy to sorrow, and allowing the story to flourish.
The Suitcase may be set in apartheid-era South Africa, but its themes are universal. Timi and Namhla merely hope for a better life, and in spite of their efforts come up against a system not designed to allow anyone else to have a piece of the pie. Timi’s slow descent into despair is played to perfection, and the injustice caused by poverty and prejudice results in his arrest for stealing the suitcase. It is a classic case of society dealing with crime over causation, and until the political spectrum changes worldwide, The Suitcase will remain timely and relevant for all future generations.