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Writer Clive Essame, creates innovative theatre inspired by the sounds and sights of the African bush. / 11 December 2015

watercolour illustration of a lion's face

Cover image for Cilve Essame's play 'Impisi'

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People of all ages ask me why I have written two plays; Impisi is about disability and Mbali is about mental ill-health; using African wild animals as the main characters – good question!  

It all started in South Africa a few years ago when I was taken to see a performance by two amazing actors in a school hall in front of over 100 young pupils.

They were telling the story of poor people who were displaced by wealthy property developers after the tsunami of 2004 – the main character was an elephant. He was played by actor/writer Ellis Pearson performing without costume or mask; he portrayed his character through movement, sound and facial expression alone. Other parts were played by Bheki Mkwane in the same theatrical style – known as 'poor theatre' where costume, props and scenery are minimal and lots is left to the imagination. 

I loved this way of working and saw how I could say what I wanted to say in a really effective way. I met with Ellis and we came up with a plan; and out of that plan came my first play - Impisi - which means hyena in the isiZulu language of South Africa. 

Impisi is a play that addresses important issues around prejudice, bullying, disability and difference, delivering a powerful message of acceptance. The story is about Nkosi, the young male lion, who is about to take over the pride when he is caught in a wire snare. He escapes but is permanently disabled. His situation leads him to forge an unlikely friendship with the hyena Impisi, and he learns how to overcome the pits of despair and loss of physical ability in order to flourish and fulfil his potential.

This is a moving journey of self-discovery and hope, which touches the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. Impisi allows us to see through animals’ eyes in order to better understand the challenges and issues that disability, different ethnicity, bullying and discrimination bring about. It also helps us learn about how people who could be considered ‘different’ react and respond to the world. 

The animals in Impisi are chosen carefully. Nkosi the lion is considered the King of the beasts and he fell from the top to the bottom; the image of the hyena is of an ugly, deformed scavenger while the truth is that they are very intelligent, effective hunters with a complex society; the ostrich can’t do the one thing that surely defines birds – flying. 

Impisi is easy to perform and very adaptable depending on your cast size, age, budget and venue. Please visit www.impisiproductions.com to find out more.

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