HOW DO YOU make sense of loss? It’s a relentless pit of remorse and unspoken words, of perhaps guilt and ‘should haves’. It is an uncertain place of not knowing how your absent person would have responded to a given situation. It is in this morass of confused but very earnest emotions that we meet Emma (Frieda van den Heever). She’s arrived at the vocation of carer to the elderly, having taken a rather scenic approach with her education. And thus begins Waar is Tomas?, the final Afrikaans radio drama in this season, a tale of making do when all around you is crumbling, and of holding on to the things that matter. With words alone.
It’s an achingly beautiful work and the youth of playwright Zoë Ras – she is but in her 20s – is belied in the sophisticated compassion articulated by the character development. Giel (Carel Trichardt) is the old man who becomes Emma’s charge. And he starts off the relationship as a self-protecting curmudgeon with demands on the young woman that are more than just peevish challenges.
What unfolds is the kind of magic you find between the two covers of a work of fiction, or between the words of a poem. The eponymous Tomas is a deeply beloved grandson of Giel. He is working in the Middle East, with Doctors without Borders, and you have an inkling from the start where Tomas might well be.
While this level of the plot is predictable, this kind of work is less about the story itself than the texture it contains. This is a reckoning, a moment of clarity and a situation where love – like that between a daughter and her father – begins to grow. It’s something like what you may have seen in Visiting Mr Green, or in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, and is a sensitive, thoughtful exploration of this type of companionship.
But the magic in the poems is what distinguishes it beautifully. There are lines from the great Afrikaans poets, including Totius and Eugene Marais here that will haunt you with their simplicity and their largeness. There’s a moment of poem-reading that gives wing to a Pygmalion analogy, and there are digressions from the here and now into the what ifs of a story that are crafted to the medium of radio magnificently.
- Waar is Tomas? (Where is Thomas?) is written by Zoë Ras. Directed by Margot Luyt, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Dean Balie, Jumaine Hansen, Lise-Marie Richardson, Carel Trichardt, Frieda van den Heever, André Weideman, Petru Wessels and Tarryn Wijngaard. It debuts on Radio Sonder Grense (100-104fm) on Thursday June 28 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on Monday July 2 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme, and is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za