Nothing But The Truth is a very conventional, almost TV-style, family drama, but it is powered by the urgency of something to say about the dilemma of the little man in South Africa’s post-apartheid years.

Sipho is assistant head librarian at the Port Elizabeth public library.

He’s angry at being passed over for the top job -“ but at least he’s in charge of the library’s one bookcase devoted to black African literature.

The return of his exiled dead brother, a famed black activist, now a box of ashes sitting on his coffee table, unravels the secrets of his sibling rivalry and Sipho’s own quiet sacrifice during South Africa’s violence.

The playwright is John Kani, artistic director of the famous Market Theatre since 1990 when Mandela was released, and an actor who earlier shot to international prominence in the plays of Athol Fugard.

Kani also plays Sipho and his performance as the shuffling and grumbling librarian is a masterpiece.

The set-up in Kani’s naturalistic play takes too long but we weep when Sipho is finally stirred to tell the story of his lost son, a young poet murdered in a riot at a funeral.

And our spirits soar with him as he sheds his dullness and dreams his revenge.

Sipho’s dutiful daughter only senses his jealousy and pain -“ she works for the new Truth and Reconciliation Commission -“ and is beautifully played by Moshidi Motshegwa.

Into their home comes the brother’s daughter, bearing the ashes and what turns out to be a time-bomb of family secrets.

She’s a sassy fashion victim from London and Kani gives his native audience some easy laughs at her facile Western ways and morals.

Rosie Motene struggles to make her truthful and is not helped by Kani underwriting the roles of both women and leaving his own the only story.

The play is meticulously staged in a detailed rendition of a working homeland’s house.

This conventional form of theatre is without the artistic leaps of imagination which perhaps would alienate Kani’s ideal audience, his own community.

By the end Sipho’s urgent story makes a moving theatrical experience.

Nothing But The Truth is at the Sydney Opera House until May 21.

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