BWW Review: Resourceful Prinsloo Brings Life to Naskrif's Poetic MOEDERTAAL at The Fugard Studio

BWW Review: Resourceful Prinsloo Brings Life to Naskrif's Poetic MOEDERTAAL at The Fugard Studio
Sandra Prinsloo in MOEDERTAAL
Photo credit: Robert Hamblin

MOEDERTAAL is the latest in a welcome series of Afrikaans theatre productions in The Fugard Theatre's annual line-up. Just days before its opening, Theatrerocket's astounding DIE REUK VAN APPELS completed its debut Capetonian season, with Naskrif Produksies presenting this poetic meditation on life, love and loss at the popular venue in the Mother City through the beginning of December.

Written and directed by Nico Scheepers and performed by Sandra Prinsloo, MOEDERTAAL is the story of Nellie, who begins the play by threatening to end her life by walking into the sea, following in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf and Ingrid Jonker. The waves almost seem to conspire to keep her out of the ocean: maybe such deaths are reserved for great artists, or perhaps she still has something left to say in this lifetime. As she walks along the beach, Nellie remembers her childhood, her marriage to her beloved Johannes, the tragic life of their child, and the new challenges that old age introduces to life.

More a poem in performance than a play, MOEDERTAAL is elegantly written. Scheepers creates a series of striking images with his carefully chosen words, dealing with some of the grand themes of life - death, disease, parenthood and human connection. The beauty of the text is undeniable, but its impact on the audience - like poetry, in fact - was visibly varied when the lights came up in the house. Some people were so moved that they had to gather themselves before they could rise from their seats to make their way into the foyer. Others were tearful. Still others walked on, not finding that degree of emotional resonance. Not all poems are for all people.

I have to admit that I was in the latter group, keenly aware of the linguistic beauty of MOEDERTAAL, but left feeling somewhat impassive about it. For me, the difficulty lay in my experience of seeing many of the truths about life upon which MOEDERTAAL reflects, communicated more effectively in other productions involving the two artists who bring this piece to life on stage at The Fugard Studio.

The manner in which HEMELRUIM, which saw Scheepers directing his translation of Nick Payne's CONSTELLATIONS, approached the impact of terminal illness on relationships and indeed the issue of human connection hit home for me. OSKAR EN DIE PIENK TANNIE, a solo theatre piece performed in recent years by Prinsloo, offered layer after layer of emotional truth in its handling of the death of a child. These observations are not meant to imply that MOEDERTAAL is at all untruthful or overly derivative regarding its subject matter, but I was left wondering whether Scheepers had, in this case, found a distinct voice in which to speak about these themes.

In her performance of the text, Prinsloo is everything that one has come to expect of her. Resourceful and ready to captivate audiences with her vulnerability on stage, Prinsloo gives Nellie a life that exists fully, beyond the constraints of the written word. The offbeat sense of humour with which Prinsloo provides Nellie only serves to highlight further the pathos that characterises much of the piece.

In his design and direction of MOEDERTAAL, Scheepers creates an onstage environment that is ripe for transforming his word imagery into visual concepts. His staging is sometimes as poetic as his writing, particularly when working with the small heap of sand that serves as both a platform and a repository for Nellie's shoes and the stones that appear from Nellie's pockets during the hour-long production. While his lighting design lacks focus, Scheepers's sound design for the piece includes his own evocative piano compositions, which marry well with the nostalgic tone of the production and help to shape its rhythms.

Although every theatre production connects differently with different people, this is perhaps the critical factor in influencing the way in which people respond to MOEDERTAAL. Performed in Afrikaans with English surtitles, it is clear that The Fugard has found a way that makes productions in different languages accessible to its audiences, a strategy that has seen several high-profile Afrikaans pieces make their way to this top-class venue in Cape Town's historic District Six. Here's hoping that local audiences will see the theatre expanding its language bouquet to productions in our other official languages too.

MOEDERTAAL runs at The Fugard Theatre until 2 December, with performances on Tuesdays through Saturdays at 20:00, with matinees on Saturdays at 16:00. Tickets cost from R130-R165 and are available online via Computicket, by phone on 086 191 58000 or 021 461 4554, or in person at any Shoprite Checkers outlet.

MOEDERTAAL has been nominated for four BroadwayWorld South Africa Awards, namely Best Play, Best New Work, Best Performer in a Leading Role in a Play and Best Director of a Play. Vote for your theatre picks of the year, submitted by BroadwayWorld readers, before the voting period closes on 31 December.

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