A homecoming for a bona fide Cape Town theatre classic

A homecoming for a bona fide Cape Town theatre classic

This year’s Artscape Women Humanity Arts Festival will bring people of all walks of life together from August 2 to 12. Now in its 11th year, the festival focuses on humanity, women and disability by not only celebrating “the bravest souls of our society”, but also addressing the challenges they face.

One of the biggest highlights of the festival will be actress Quanita Adams performing a limited run of Nadia Davids’ acclaimed play ‘At Her Feet’. The production combines movement, song, poetry and monologues to explore issues like Identity, Islamophobia and Islamic Feminism through the eyes of four Muslim women in Cape Town. The piece is considered by some to be one of South Africa’s most significant post-apartheid works and its staging from August 8 to 12 will be its first in 13 years.

Peter Tromp caught with the two women behind this theatrical classic.

QUANITA ADAMS

It’s been almost 15 years since you last performed ‘At Her Feet’. How does it feel to revisit the play?

Revisiting the play feels invigorating and terrifying. it’s been so many years, I’m a different woman that I was when last I performed the play, five years ago. It’s been 13 years since I performed it in Cape Town, so of course I am nervous, but excited to introduce these characters to a new generation of theatre goers. It’s good to get back into the swing of these things, and the rehearsals are making me stretch muscles I haven’t in some time now. So it’s that good kind of feeling you get from working hard

‘At Her Feet’ effectively kick-started your and Nadia Davids’ professional careers. What do you remember about the time when you guys were working on the play? And how does it feel to be reunited?

It’s wonderful to be reunited in this way. It’s like a homecoming in so many ways. We’ve both been away from Cape Town, so this is a great way to ease back into the swing of things. I remember when we started Nadia would enter the rehearsal room clutching her scarf covered hardcover notebook, with a new monologue, and it was exciting to be able to perform what she came up with. It’s the closest thing to that kind of turnover I’ve experienced. She just would go off, then the next day, a whole new monologue – it was incredible, and it inspired me to work at finessing the physicality of these characters. We quickly developed a shorthand, where eventually we started working to each others’ strengths. We even started dressing alike, without any kind of conference. It’s funny when I think about it. These young women, doing what hadn’t really been done before. Now we get to do it again – it’s such a privilege.

For the uninitiated, tell us about the play and what audiences can look forward to.

It’s a one woman show that deals with the experiences of six different Muslim women of different ages. They discuss and share details about their relationship with Islam, particularly the scarf, and how they make sense of that, particularly in a post 9-11 world, where the world’s attention was suddenly focused on Muslim women. It’s funny, poignant; moving. The audience get to hear six different perspectives in a way that still feels as relevant today as it did all those years ago.

How do you think the play holds up in 2017? Do you think it has stood the test of time?

Yes absolutely. Nadia made the decision, in restaging, not to change the text. I agree that it shouldn’t be updated. It is an historical document in a way; not just theatrically, but also in a way politically. It’s set in 2002. Sadly, many issues that deal with prejudice still exist for Muslim communities and in some ways, have even intensified. Wars continue to rage unabatedly, though the geography might have slightly shifted. The issues are still current. Also, it’s a great South African play, and it’s great to be able to step into these women again.

You are very active in television at this time, so we don’t really see you that often on the planks anymore. You do return every so often, though. Describe the call of the stage for an actor, especially when you’ve been active in other media.

Oh man, it’s the ultimate homecoming…hey there’s a theme here. It feels like the most natural thing ever. It’s the proverbial riding of the bike; the duck to water – all of that. I love screen work, but theatre is and always will be my first love. The immediacy of the audience; the thrill of just how intimate and electric that relationship is…it’s wonderful, and being able to relive that, with this beautiful piece of theatre, is a blessing.

NADIA DAVIDS

You made a huge splash with ‘At Her Feet’ almost 15 years ago. How do you feel that play holds up, and has your preoccupations and obsessions changed at all since you debuted that work?

‘At Her Feet’ has a very special place in my heart – Quanita’s too. It gave us our start and was made and received with such love. One of the things that’s given me immense joy since I’ve been back is having young women-across a spectrum of faith and race – who are in high-school or at university – telling me what the play has meant to them; how it made them feel visible, how they gravitated towards it, what it showed them. I think that’s the best gauge of whether it holds up or not: if it still connects with a new generation of theatremakers and theatregoers, even readers. As to the focus of my work changing: sure, as an artist one has to shift and develop or you stagnate. You refine certain ideas as you get older, but the in broad strokes, I’m still interested in the same things: Cape Town, women, storytelling.

* Tickets for the festival’s productions are available from Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 021 421 7695.