Gritty Cape Flats drama to honour a local legend at Suidoosterfees

Gritty Cape Flats drama to honour a local legend at Suidoosterfees

The gritty Afrikaans production ‘Kristalvlakte’ is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the 13th Suidoosterfees, set to take place at various theatres across Cape Town at the end of April.
The work has been commissioned by Naspers to celebrate the life and work of the late Professor Jakes Gerwel, the former chairman of Media24, former rector of the University of Western Cape and the director general of former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet.

Peter Tromp caught up with two of the main players of this exciting creative endeavour.

ILSE KLINK (lead actress)

Tell us about ‘Kristalvlakte’ and what audiences can look forward to with the production at the Fugard.
‘Kristalvlakte’ is about Priscilla who travels around with her cart, selling knick-knacks on the Cape Flats. She receives most of her “stock” from drug addicts who sell to her in order to get their next “fix”. She exploits the drug war and gangsterism in order to keep her family going financially. Her sole aim is to keep her family alive in the middle of the gang war. She is a saleswoman who is blinded by her own greed, but never learns to change her ways. The director, Mari Bortslap, has used Brecht’s “vervreemding” extensively in the play. The play will be presented in a very stylized, surprising manner. “Offbeat” as is the true style of Brecht, audiences will definitely find this exciting and refreshing.

Tell us about your character, Priscilla, and how you’re going about realising her.
Priscilla is a very strong, dangerous mother who loses all perspective when she goes into “sale” mode. She does everything in her power to keep her family around her, but loses what is most precious to her, because of her greed and disregard for anybody but herself. She is blind to the obvious. She is callous, harsh, and brash. This is truly quite a change for me, as it’s the first time I’m working in the Cape Flats dialect. I love it. Finding the nuances of creating Priscilla is a daily gift and pushes me and expands my acting repertoire. The challenge is immense and I’m truly excited about performing to Cape Town audiences.

The production features a stellar cast of local actors. Tell us a little about some of your fellow thespians and why you are executed to share the stage with them.
What’s wonderful about the cast is that they are so powerful on stage. Every one of them brings a fantastic flavour to the production. Young performers inspire me and make me want to be a better actor. The veterans, like Royston Stoffels as the preacher, bring dignity and stature to the play. Brendon Daniels brings such a natural performance to the piece; I’m still trying to figure out how he does it so well. It’s my first time sharing the stage with all these marvellous performers. They are generous, focused, consummate professionals. Riaan Visman plays the “Generaal” and he has a quality that makes you sit up and pay attention – he is the demon himself and truly entertaining to watch.

“Last night a show changed my life.” Which show?
I was privileged to be at the KKNK and was truly struck by two plays: ‘Die dag is Bros’ with Sandra Prinsloo and Dean Smith, who plays my son, Ephraim, in ‘Kristalvlakte’.
Also a beautiful, striking one man performance by Richard September in ‘Rooivlak’. They were both inspiring and life changing, each in their own way.

AMY JEPHTA (writer)
How did you become involved in this project of celebrating the memory of Professor Jakes Gerwel?
The call from the Suidoosterfees was to a group of writers to pitch a proposal that used ‘Mutter Courage’ by Brecht as a starting point. From there, the writers were given free reign to reinterpret, adapt, remix and reconceptualise Brecht’s work. I was invited to submit my pitch as part of that call. The process from there was to deliver various drafts to a series of deadlines. I was overjoyed that my proposal was chosen in the end – the work became very personal for me as a result of the process facilitated by Suidoosterfees.

What about Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder’ struck you as being particularly adaptable to a local setting?
Brecht’s work is not only universal, but timeless. The themes he was exploring in ‘Mutter Courage’ can speak to almost any society, but the idea of a mother having to go to extreme – maybe illegal – lengths to provide for her family struck a chord with me. It was a story I had heard many times growing up in Mitchell’s Plain and Bishop Lavis. The slippery ethics, the ambiguity of character, the extremity of the situation and its casualties – it felt that Brecht put a finger on the economics and inevitability of war. And reading it, the play still feels as fresh and relevant as ever.

What are some of your enduring fascinations, inspirations and influences in your work?
I’ve had a shift in my work over the past few years. I’ve become driven by the idea that my politics and my history is inseparable from the work I create. Several years ago, I was trying to create work that denied my own background in the quest to be “universal”. I didn’t want to be seen as a mouthpiece for a particular racial group, for my sex or gender, or for my nationality. I’ve come to accept that those influences are a part of the art I make. So I embrace that now. I want to make work that resonates with my community; that speaks to the politics and dynamics of contemporary South Africa. I can’t escape the fact that I’m shaped by the place I’m from. I no longer want to.

How is this work different to anything you have attempted in your creative past?
The scope and scale of the play is far bigger than anything I’ve done. Usually I’ve had to write one and two-handers, simply because I’ve been self producing for a long time and those are the kinds of budgets I was working with. Now, being given the space to write for so many characters, there’s a different kind of freedom. It’s also the first time I’m writing in a ‘Cape Flats’ Afrikaans dialect. I’ve had to find a way to express that linguistically and rhythmically in the writing – a challenge I had a lot of fun with.

Last time we spoke, you bemoaned the lack of young writers in the theatrical realm. How do you feel about that situation at this point in time? Has anything changed?
I’m part of a collective called PlayRiot. We’re a group of young South African playwrights, people who are similarly minded and interested in new work by young writers. The landscape for new writing really changed dramatically over the last few years. I find there’s been a huge international interest in work coming from South Africa. In Afrikaans theatre there has always been (but now more than ever, it feels) an interest in new scripts and younger writers. It feels encouraging to be a part of the industry at this point.

* ‘Kristalvlakte’ will show at The Fugard Theatre from April 29 to May 7.
Bookings are open at Computicket.
Visit www.suidoosterfees.co.za for more information on the festival.