A secret history of things


NEW beginnings. Photograph courtesy

IF YOU HAVE been privileged to have been raised by people with a long history of a complicated relationship with things, you will relate well to the gentle, empathetic and sometimes feisty humour bordering on pathos that characterises Esta Steyn’s gem of an Afrikaans-language radio play this week on Radio Sonder Grense. Ontruim (Evacuation) is a delight from beginning to end, it will have you laughing (or weeping) out loud, with fond recollection and an ability to recognise and relate, even if you are listening alone.

It is here where you meet Wilhelmien (Rina Nienaber) and Marius (Martin Jansen). After 47 years of marriage and life in one big house, out of the blue, they decide to downsize. And in thinking of this narrative line, you might recall the recent film, The Leisure Seeker, with Helen Mirren opposite Donald Sutherland, who play a couple having their last fling. In a caravan. Without their children’s permission.

You wouldn’t be wrong. Only this couple, penned by veteran Afrikaans writer, Esta Steyn, are moored in conservative values and a fear of ‘what would people think’. There’s has been a long and complicated history of love and earnestness, of a church-going stripe. Uprooting and throwing things away is a business that is about heart and memories, dalliances and old photographs and a slide projector in ways that are richly evocative.

So when the couple’s son, Boeta calls with an announcement that he’s found love, Wilhelmien reels with the unspoken gossip in other people’s mouths of Boeta’s bachelor status: he’s unmarried and already in his 40s. She’s anxious to protect her married daughter Christelle, from Boeta’s surprising news and the uncertainty she feels in this big step she and her husband are embarking on.

And as they rifle through their things with an eye on the new, small abode and what can be repurposed as donations, memories come unbidden, some of which are so sweet and hilarious that you will laugh and cry simultaneously.

But this story is not a shopping list of memories of the elderly. It’s about making peace with things that are different to how you may have wanted them to be. It’s about the love of a table or a cupboard for all the memories it housed, and it is about holding on to things which don’t work any longer.

Ontruim is a deliciously constructed play, succinct and to the point, but lent texture and colour in its performances. With a perfect cast and featuring songs by the ilk of Elvis Presley and Frankie Valli, it conjures up a delicious romance that hinges on a robust relationship, and is about trust and letting go as much as it is about holding on.

  • Ontruim (Evacuation) is written by Esta Steyn. Directed by Helena Hugo, and featuring technical input by Neria Mokwena and Evert Snyman, it is performed by Martin Jansen, Rina Nienaber, Sulette Thompson and Christine Voorendyk. It debuts on RSG on April 11 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on April 15 at 1am in Radio Sonder Grense’s Deurnag programme, and is also available on podcast:

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