Multi-award winning writer/director Neil Coppen and educational sociologist Dr. Dylan McGarry, in conjunction with SA Drug Policy, will be presenting to parliament their transgressive theatre process ULWEMBU – a multi-award winning ground- breaking, poignant, informative, honest and incisive theatre production about dependent drug-use and community transformation at The Hillbrow Theatre onWednesday the 25th of January at 19h30

“An extremely important piece of theatre… But this production is not a stereotyped “say no to drugs” play. It is a deeply researched theatre project, which is authentic, insightful, razor-sharp and frighteningly real. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is educational theatre at its zenith.”

–      Keith Millar, Theatre Critic, ARTSMART

Please RSVP by sending an email to and request the number of tickets you will be needing. Feel free to forward the invite onward to interested parties. Further details below.

unnamedSince 2014 a dynamic team of story-tellers, playwrights, theatre-makers, academics and researchers set about exploring the increasing levels of Whoonga (low-grade heroin) use currently plaguing KZN communities. The result of the two year research/play-making process, is a powerful new theatre production titled Ulwenbu  (isiZulu for Spider web) which will be having a short public run at the Hillbrow theatre.

Ulwembuwhich has been described as ‘poignant’ and ‘essential’ viewing, affords local theatre audiences the opportunity to walk in the shoes of misunderstood others: be it people who use illicit drugs, dealers, police-officers, social-workers or families of people who use drugs.

Generally the attitudes we see to drug use, is that it has a catastrophic effect on our communities, yet our research (alongside global research) shows that systemically it is the catastrophic state of our communities that are driving the use of Whoonga. “Drug use is not the root problem, but the symptom and politically expedient and attractive target.”  says Shaun Shelly, a research partner from UCT and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria and TB/HIV Care. Ulwembu reveals possible answers to some of the big questions we currently face around street level drug use in our country, through two years of in depth research at multiple scales.

ulwembuUlwembu is more than just a play, but an immersive social learning tool, that brings together diverse citizens and civil servants into a transformative and transgressive empathetic space. “ If we want to respond to drugs humanely and comprehensively in South Africa” explains Dr. Dylan McGarry (co-writer/producer), “we need to first understand the interwoven and deeply connected nature of this problem. Our production strives to give this contentious issue, a more human face and perspective…. We call this form of theatre ‘Empatheatre’ in which we create an ‘amphitheater of empathy’ for all those involved.”

The play itself is very powerful, and it completely expanded the teams expectations with regards to the power of theatre to not only change perception, but actually inspire meaningful change: “With this production” urges Neil Coppen (co-writer/director), “we wanted to create an engrossing and visceral theatrical journey for audiences, allowing the power of the story and the characters escalating dilemmas, to reveal the many complexities and facets behind the crises.” 

Ulwembu was recently awarded best script, best director (Coppen), best-led actress (Mthombeni) and best supporting actor (Ngubane) and best newcomer (Ngcebo) at the 2017 Durban Theatre Awards. The cast includes Mpume Mthombeni, Vumani Khumalo, Phumlani Ngubane, Ngcebo Cele, Sandile Nxumalo and Zenzo Msomi. Direction is by Neil Coppen, Design by Dylan McGarry, the script is co-written by the entire team.

For more information please visit the Ulwembu website:

Other show times at the Hillbrow theatre and its surrounds include Tues 24th   Jan 2017 @15:30,Wed 25th @ 10:30 & 19:30, Thurs 26th : 10:30 @ 13:30, Friday 27th 10:30 @ Rand Aid Association Tarentaal Village. 200 Modderfontein Avenue.

Ulwembu was initially funded by the Open Society Foundations and this performance has been made possible through the generous support of the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science,. Urban Futures Centre, Twist Theatre Development Project (Twist Durban), Think Theatre and the constant support of the Denis Hurley Centre and the Hillbrow Theatre (Outreach Foundation).

RSVP Please

This special performance is aimed at policy makers, academics and professionals from government and civil society. Spaces are limited and on a first come first served basis.

Please RSVP by sending an email to and request the number of tickets you will be needing. Feel free to forward the invite onwards to interested parties.

The Venue

The Hillbrow Theatre (14 Kapteijn St, Johannesburg, 2001 ) on Wednesday the 25th January 2017 at 19:30. Safe parking and security is provided on site.

For further information contact:
Shaun Shelly at or Julie at