Interview With…Kalungi Ssebandeke

The actor chatted to LLLC’s Emma Clarendon about his current role in Blood Knot, playing at the Orange Tree Theatre.

Hi Kalungi, could you tell me what ‘Blood Knot’ is about? So, Blood Knot is a play set in 1961 during Apartheid South Africa during a period in the country when separatist racist laws made it illegal for different races to mix.In our story, a sexually frustrated and illiterate Zach (who is dark-skinned) convinced by his white-passing brother Morris to let off some steam by writing to a Pen-Pal who can act as a distraction from the dull and monotonous life in the small shack they share. Trouble ensues when Morris notices that the chosen Pen-Pal is indeed a white woman. As the two previously estranged brothers struggle to agree as to how to re-shut the can of worms opened, a beautiful yet dark tale of inequality within society and their own personal upbringing unravels.

How have you found working on the production so far? This has been a challenging and exciting production to work on that has allowed me to put into practice my training (I graduate this year from Guildhall School of Music and Drama). I have also been able to get a strong understanding about thepolitics of Apartheid South Africa and how the system adversely affected the lives of Black and mixed race people – effects that are still felt to this day. It has been great working with Nathan McMullen who plays Morris as we had an instant organic chemistry evident from the audition. This coupled with the talented creative team (including but not limited to Xana- the composer, Angela Gasparetto, the Movement Director, Kevin McCurdy the Fight Director, Emma Woodvine, the Dialect Coach and Ciaran Cunningham, the lighting designer) helmed by the director, Matthew Xia has made this a fulfilling and enriching production to work on. It’s also worth noting the incredible work of Stage Management Team who have been integral to the work on and off the stage.

What was it about the story that made you want to be involved with this revival? What made me what to be involved with this revival is the complex relationship the brothers had with their mother. Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Zach speaks to the spirit of their dead mother and finally asks the question that has been sitting heavy on his chest all while dressed in a suit he bought for his brother so he can step into the skin of a white man. This level of complex writing that Athol Fugard manages to fit into a two-page long monologue made this revival irresistible. Here is this disenfranchised black man whose feet are made sore by the rock filled ground he treads in order to make ends meet as he seeks the validation of both his birth mother whilst ill-fittingly dressed in the uniform of a race that persists to infantilise him whilst inadvertently forcing him to long for it’s approval in order to survive mentally and physically. Zach has two fathers – his biological father and Apartheid South-Africa and they both mistreated and continue to mistreat him.

What did you take away from ‘Blood Knot’ when you initially read it?I took away how chillingly relevant this play is to today. Not only in South-Africa but other countries. Issues of inequality amongst races and within said races still persist. I was intrigued by how the play didn’t shy away from the darkness of human nature whilst lulling the audience into this false sense of security via the more playfully moments in the play.

How do you feel about being part of bringing ‘Blood Knot’ back to the stage?I feel extremely proud and honoured to have been part of this revival especially considering that many strong actors in the past have taken on this role. From, Zakes Mokae (who originated the role), James Earl Jones, Wil Johnson, Colman Domingo and now Kalungi Ssebandeke. It’s definitely a tremendous privilege to have been part of this special revival at The Orange Tree – a theatre whose work I have admired for years, working with a team of tremendously talented creatives and production staff who have all dedicated their talent and time to this fantastic production.

For those who are coming along – what can they expect from the production? They can expect humour, joy, un comfortability, a questioning of their place in the world along with a call to action.

By Emma Clarendon

Blood Knot continues to play at the Orange Tree Theatre until the 20th April.

%d bloggers like this: