HOLIDAY TIME BECKONS and a young white South African family comprising two little girls, a teenaged son and their parents are readying themselves for their annual seaside vacation. Bessie (Simonè Benjamin) is but 19. She’s brown. And she’s employed as the family’s nanny. And she’s never seen the sea in her life. The children want to show her. The children also want to allow her to play, and fate steps into the breach. Thus begins the new season of Afrikaans-language radio theatre on Radio Sonder Grense, with Elise Muller’s short story Die Vrou op die Skuit.
This pretty love story cast under the sheen of extreme modesty and the uncomfortable sense of euphemism that comes of a young woman of colour doing the domestic tasks of a white South African family, but there’s a twist in the tale that may make you think of hardy brown women of the ilk of Fiela Komoetie in Brett Michael Innes’ recent portrayal of the classic Dalene Matthee story, Fiela se Kind. It’s a tale of immense simplicity but complicated loss and the ability to take challenges head on with no fanfare or drama.
Beautifully crafted with an understanding of the happy rough-and-tumble of a seaside holiday, the work features passages of Schubert in its interstices, as well as frissons of recorded excitement that makes you able to smell the sea in your mind’s nose as you sit by the wireless on a Thursday evening. It’s a charming little story wrapped in South African prejudice and the tittering of little children around buds which may blossom into love, and around the idea of understanding their domestic maid as a real human being. On a level, it evokes the work of South African novellist Barbara Mutch as it gives voice to a young woman with a head of practicality who gets swept off her feet by the sea.
- Die Vrou op die Skuit (The woman on the ship) is written by Elise Muller and adapted for radio by André Kotzé. Directed by Joanie Combrinck and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Simonè Benjamin, Jane de Wet, Karli Heine, Arno Horn, Marlo Minnaar, Frieda van den Heever and Charl van Heyningen. It debuts on RSG on Thursday October 3 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on October 7 at 1am during the station’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za