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BWW Review: THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT is Full of Courage and Heart

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Catch the world premiere of this important work

BWW Review: THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT is Full of Courage and Heart

I've been waiting for this production to hit the stage for a long time and I was not disappointed. THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT is in equal measures chilling and heart-warming, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is a true story. Having author and real-life South African hero, Ronnie Kasrils, in the audience at the opening made everything feel even more emotional.

The story of the UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT is all about Eleanor Kasrils, a young woman who fought the apartheid system from the 1960s onwards. It is based on the book by the same name, written by the heroine's husband and fellow freedom fighter, Ronnie Kasrils. The stage adaptation was initially conceived of by Erika Marais and the script was written by Paul du Toit. The pair also star in the play as the main couple.

The staging of this play is done so simply and yet so powerfully. We are presented with Marais as a wide-eyed Eleanor and taken through her journey from liberal thinker to powerful activist who was detained and brutally interrogated by Special Branch. The rest of the cast is made up of du Toit (who also directed the play), Gideon Lombard, Sanda Shandu and Ntlanhla Kutu. These four men play all of the other characters - from Eleanor's mother through to the police and even fellow inmates at the psychiatric institution.

I loved how du Toit and the cast created all of these different characters through simple props and changes to body language and voice. There was never any confusion as to who was on stage speaking as the actors transformed in front of us. It was particularly exciting to watch Lombard transform from the detestable officer Grobler to the slightly whacky lady in the institution and back again. There must have been some serious mental acrobatics going on to keep those characters so separate and so solid through the performance.

The script from du Toit also created some wonderful challenges for the actors and the audience, as he wrote the story in a slightly fragmented way. It was highly effective, the way du Toit cut between the harshness of the interrogation, the heightened emotions of the escape and the lighter moments. This was done through simple line repetition at just the right moments and also through a disjointed timeline. I absolutely loved this.

BWW Review: THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT is Full of Courage and Heart

Sound and lighting, designed by Daniel Galloway and Jahn Beukes respectively, was also incredibly effective. I loved the spotlights on the four chairs down the side of the stage, which were the bases for the male actors to work from. While on the topic of those chairs, I did feel that at times the actors went back to them too often as the action changed from scene to scene. There were points where is felt like too much back and fore that was unnecessary because the scenes were so short.

At the official opening performance of THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT at the Drama Factory, the audience was treated to a Q&A with the team and Ronnie Kasrils. It was really wonderful to hear his thoughts on the production and the interpretation of such a personal story. When asked about how difficult it was for him to relive Eleanor's interrogations and this period in his life, he said with a smile on his face that it was like re-meeting Eleanor all over again.

THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT truly is a must-see. It is a part of South African history that needs to be told and this play tells it so beautifully through a cast of talented and dedicated actors.

Photo credit: Jeremeo Le Cordeur


THE UNLIKELY SECRET AGENT runs at The Drama Factory 6-11 July and tickets range from R130 to R160. Bookings can be made online.

For more information, follow the production on Instagram and Facebook.


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