Your son, in the cross hairs


THE target, your son: The best known association with the Schiller play, Wilhelm Tell. Photograph courtesy

ISSUES OF BRAVERY and selflessness in 1300s Europe, with all its rivalry and gallantry, come under the loupe in Radio Sonder Grense’s weekly Afrikaans-language radio play this week. It’s an interpretation of Friedrich Schiller’s 1804 play Wilhelm Tell, and translated into the Afrikaans and featuring lots of nips and tucks in cast and narrative, it’s an unusual choice. Broadcasting from 08:30pm this evening because of election coverage, this play might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

What everyone does know about the Tell legend features a little boy used as a cruel tactic against the story’s hero. It’s centred on conflict between Switzerland and Austria and the hero, Tell, is a marksman of note. His son is put into the proverbial cross-hairs with an apple on his head: it’s a challenge to Tell. Will he be accurate enough not to kill his own child with his own bow and arrow?

The other thing you may think of when you hear the words “William Tell” is the famous Rossini overture featuring all the pomp and ceremony of military discourse. The radio play doesn’t feature swathes of Rossini, but the instrumental music used to punctuate the scene changes makes you feel as though you are sitting in an historical film from the 1950s.

The narrator sets the tone of the material, reading out the description of context and layout, and while you may not be quickly swept into the pace of the historical or legendary shenanigans, it is the Afrikaans language itself which makes this a delight: it’s a little like listening to Shakespeare, with all the army dignitaries doing their thing, but you cannot help but wish for a more nuanced reading of the work, where the central character is someone accessible who brings your empathy to the 1300s. Yet, as a snippet of a cool evening’s radio theatre entertainment? It’s not what you’ve been listening to up to now, in this slot.

  • Wilhelm Tell was written by Friedrich Schiller in 1804. Translated from the German by DF Malherbe, it is directed by Jacques Loots, from RSG’s archives, and it is performed by Kosie Eloff, Danie Joubert, Patrick Mynhardt, Emgee Pretorius, Nic Swanepoel and Tromp Terre’Blanche. It broadcasts on RSG on May 9 at 8:30pm, will be rebroadcast on May 13 at 1am in Radio Sonder Grense’s Deurnag programme, and is also available on podcast.

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