IF THE COMPLICATED plight of an intelligent woman entrapped in a domestic structure, penned in the 19th century, is the kind of tale that grabs you, don’t go out tomorrow evening. Even if you’re not a Henrik Ibsen buff, Suzanne van Wijk’s Afrikaans-language translation of the Norwegian playwright’s 1879 classic A Doll’s House is a completely riveting achievement that offers an intimate and accurate reflection on the harsh complexities of what it takes to fight a system where you’re pinned to expectations, because of your gender. It’s longer than the normal radio drama in this slot, but you wouldn’t want it any other way.
With veteran performers, Cobus Rossouw and Sandra Kotzé in the leads, the work is crisply rendered, lending a three dimensionality to Kotzé’s Noora Helmer, that is haunting and reaches into the heart of feminist diatribes with poetry and pragmatics. Interestingly, this work uses space and distance in the honing of the narrative: you cannot picture them standing at microphones throughout, but rather skirting and moving through a set. It’s a fascinating device for radio which enables you to get a sense of the space in which they exist, as it implies the context of their 19th century Victorian home with all its bits and pieces, its miens and social codes.
It’s like there’s a tarantella being danced throughout the work on several levels, challenging possibility and tradition, perception and reality, the notion of the woman as possession and a reflection on how she becomes self-possessed and takes life by its proverbial shirt front, with both hands.
A Doll’s House is a tale deeply entrenched in the social context of the 19th century, and Kotzé is on fire, not only in terms of how she evolves in the work’s duration, but also of how her Noora embraces the role she must play, as society wife and mother, that is, until she realises that the ‘wonderful thing’ she has been anticipating all her married life, with all the scrimping and saving, all the coy curtseying and demure giggling she’s done, will not come about.
Rossouw will also knock you sideways in his patronising and potent Torvald Helmer, Noora’s husband, a flawed giant, as he holds the proverbial golden key to his wife’s happiness and the social sanctity of their life together, or so he believes. He’s the unwitting casualty in the tale, one whom Noora risks fraud to save, but one socially incapable of understanding or engaging this courage or these nuances. Why? She’s a woman who it seems has forgotten her place. The fact that she has more savvy than she’s given credit for, by the system in which she exists links her to so many other classic heroines through literature.
It’s a portrait of the messy notion of marriage, of that of trust and sacrifice: and rather a damning one at that. Van Wijk’s translation and direction is utterly magnificent. It’s a work that will keep you glued to the wireless, not only because of Ibsen’s turn of hand in its construction, but also given the tight and authentic characterisation of the roles, which renders your radio a cipher to a whole universe.
- ‘n Pophuis (A Doll’s House) is written by Henrik Ibsen and translated into Afrikaans and directed by Suzanne van Wijk. Featuring technical input by Elena Rabie and Loukie Olivier, it is performed by Fanie Bekker, Sandra Kotzé, Robert Mohr, Amanda Muller, Cobus Rossouw and Helena Scholtz, and will be broadcast on Radio Sonder Grense on Thursday May 10 at 8pm, and again on Monday May 14 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za