RADIO DRAMA REVIEW: DIE NAG VAN LEGIO.
WHEN YOU GET so immersed into a radio play that you feel at once transfixed and terrified to your very core, you know that you are in the presence of real greatness — from the perspectives of writing, directing and performing. PG du Plessis’s debut drama, Die Nag van Legio first saw light of day in the late 1960s. It was crafted for male performers. The iteration of it which you can hear for free on Radio Sonder Grense’s archive is a gem of modern Afrikaans theatre that will take you to the kind of dark places that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible does, but also to the corners in your own head and heart which remain open-ended to the supernatural. And even those that don’t.
But this is no story that is crudely about what goes bump in the night. It’s rich and sophisticated in its character development and in the stories upon stories that fill its length. Like Ken Kesey’s 1959 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s a complicated, subtle foray into the thin lines which contain criminal insanity and the ways in which the unknown can blur those lines and sometimes lend more sanity to those behind psychiatric diagnoses. As you emerge from this two-hour piece, you will find it difficult to believe that the work was originally written for men. The women drive this curious, unpredictable and rather frightening tale with all the associations of witches, hysteria and the infiltrating of potent words and chants in a group context.
But it’s not all sturm und drang. As the oldest woman in the psychiatric ward in which the story takes place, Elize Cawood glimmers with sarcasm and pragmatics that will bring a laugh or two to your frightened lips. It’s a work that like Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel The Name of the Rose, embraces the depths of superstition and like Gitta Sereny’s terrifying 1972 biography, The Story of Mary Bell, touches on real crimes with a scimitar-like pen that will haunt you in its phrasing and in its performance.
In short, if you never ever listen to Afrikaans radio drama, but know the power of a great yarn told with muscularity and conviction, listen to this one. It’s utterly as good as it gets.
- Die Nag van Legio (The Night of Legion) is written by PG du Plessis. Directed by Marie Snyman, and featuring technical input by Schalk Vorster and Evert Snyman, it is performed by Elize Cawood, Marina Coetzee, Heidi Mollentze, Elma Postma, Melt Sieberhagen, Amanda Strydom, Karen Wessels and Elsabe Zietsman. It was broadcast on RSG on 29 May 2014 in honour of PG du Plessis’s 80th birthday, and is available on podcast through the radio station’s website: rsg.co.za
- RSG is currently putting together a special newsletter for listeners in which the actress Elize Cawood, who recently passed away, is being celebrated. Amongst other radio gems of Cawood’s brilliant career, it will contain an episode of Leon van Nierop’s series Stralerjakkers, and an interview with Cawood about the character Girly Lubbe, which she reprised. Only subscribers to #RSG‘s newsletter will receive it. So make sure you’re signed up.