Trevor Lynch and Billy Langa in Poet-O-Type
Trevor Lynch and Billy Langa in Poet-O-Type
Image: Phološo Phogole

If “a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”, as novelist Salman Rushdie has said, then the cynical truth and optimism in the Poet-O-Type text are in defence of poetry.

Poet-O-Type is a 2014 play by J Bobs Tshabalala, 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre. Its revival for the Market Theatre promises a staging that shows the production’s maturity and enduring sharpness 10 years after its debut.

With it Tshabalala breaks apart and mends the different types of wordsmiths in the local performance poetry scene as an ode to poets, especially those who make a living out of the craft. He deconstructs it and critiques the role and function of poetry in the arts and society. If Mafika Gwala contended that “literature should not be the refrigerated food of the bourgeois”, then Tshabalala points out that “food for thought means nothing on an empty stomach” as an extended view, for instance.  

The play’s narrative follows the journey of a talented poetry student as he contends with the varied and at times contradictory lessons of his mentor. Billy Langa reprises his role as the mentor - a role he took on with the vigour and intensity of an artist discovering his potency. A rehearsal run of the revived production showed a matured Langa giving the character sensibilities of lived experience. It’s a down-tempo’d embodiment of controlled power that provides thought and emotion space to breathe.

“Because I was younger then, I was only looking at the show in terms of flair and performance,” Langa said. “Now it’s more personal. I understand where the character’s complications are and what he is negotiating. I am also trying to find balance and hope in the arguments that the show presents. The complexities that sit between that are quite emotional.” 

Langa’s maturity is complemented by the freshness of newcomer Trevor Lynch, who takes up the role of the student with an enlivening playfulness. A Wits theatre and performance graduate, Lynch was seen in Greg Homann’s A Marry Little Christmas at the Market Theatre in 2023. He is enjoying the parallels of his character. “Much like the student, I feel like I’m a sponge, seeping in all of the learnings and bringing that out of myself,” he said. 

Controlled power: Trevor Lynch and Billy Langa in Poet-O-Type
Controlled power: Trevor Lynch and Billy Langa in Poet-O-Type
Image: Phološo Phogole

Poet-O-Type is directed by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana. Together with Langa they are the “Theatre Duo” and joint winners of the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Theatre. Their approach pushes the boundaries of interdisciplinary collaboration, centred on exploring the relationship between text and movement. Occasional collaborators with Tshabalala, the duo are adept at giving his words a soulful structure. Tshabalala has a knack for witty language play whose flair is on display here. Kozo Zwane’s soundscapes and Ernest Baleni’s movement direction add another layer of soul to the play that is now tighter with a calm rhythm.

Poet-O-Type runs at the Market Theatre from July 11–28.

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