‘Shirt of Fire/Hemp van Vlam’, written by playwright Pieter Cilliers, is a one-woman opera, which explores the poetry and art of celebrated South African poet, Sheila Cussons.
A recital, the world premiere of Shirt of Fire / Hemp van Vlam, takes place on Monday, November 21, at 7 pm in Auditorium 2 of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, followed by an open discussion with the artists and experts in their respective fields.
Twelve poems were selected from Cussons’ lifelong oeuvre to tell the storyline and dialogue, while celebrated international composer, Professor Hendrik Hofmeyr, currently Head of Composition and Theory at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, was commissioned to compose the companying music.
Mezzo soprano, Jolene McCleland, recently returned to South Africa from Vienna and well-known for her interpretation of contemporary music, will be accompanied by José Dias, repetiteur, pianist and coach of the Cape Town Opera company, as well as Visser Liebenberg on clarinet.
Cussons, young, talented, beautiful and newly married, lived in Amsterdam after World War II. She was a student in graphic arts and a fledgling poet. Soon, a passionate relationship developed between Sheila and her mentor, N.P. Van Wyk Louw, despite him being significantly older and married with children. After eight years the relationship ended and Van Wyk returned to South Africa as academic and public figure.
After this rejection, the divorced Cussons moved to Barcelona, married a Spaniard and had two sons. Years later she was involved in an inexplicable gas explosion in her kitchen.
She miraculously survived this near-death experience, but needed to return to hospital frequently and for long periods of time. Most of her face and her body were maimed by the scars of multiple skin transplants. One leg and various ﬁngers were amputated.
Fitting in with the theme of the 2016 World Psychiatry International Congress at the CTICC between November 18 and 22, this monodrama indirectly questions the possible link between mental illness and creativity and the role of spiritual individuation towards peace.
It adds another glimpse at how art can help bridge the divide between psychiatry and the community.
Tickets for this once off performance are R150 and can be booked at Computicket.