Algorithms, prima donna egos and what matters most

TESTING, testing: 1 – 2 – 3. Photograph courtesy

JUST WHEN YOU may think you in your society are ‘normal’ and above criticism (and better than the previous generation), along comes a work of such great wit and wisdom, tragic nuance and poetry that your values will shift. Even a tad. In three distinct acts, Die Laaste Woord, a radio drama by Lee Doubell is many things: a history of radio as we know it, an hilariously vicious jab in the eye of prima donnas from the 1930s and a cipher of fear for what happens when the algorithms run amok in our future. Above all it is a harbinger of hope in this grubby, violent and increasingly politically correct world of ours. It broadcasts on 13 May 2021 on Radio Sonder Grense at 8pm.

Leaping, in three steps, over a span of 200 years, from 1938, the work uses the timeless, beautiful poem Winternag that Eugène Marais wrote in 1905, as its central silver thread. Never yet heard on radio in 1938, it is a standard by 2021 and by 2138, is something manipulable in tone and emotion by the power of technology. And while you have a total 1930s-redolent theatre diva marring, elongating and squashing the vowels in the name of the fashions of performance of the time, above all, throughout this work, you get a rendition of the poem that will raise goosebumps in its sense of articulated perfection.

Simple on paper, this play is a deeply developed reflection on society and its miens and rulings. From a curated understanding of Afrikaans media in 1938 to the desperation for paid work articulated by actors in a time of pandemic in 2021, to a man in the distant future who has never been outside because technology sorts and anticipates his every whim and thought, it is beautifully performed by Rolanda Marais, Deon Lotz and Jacques Bessenger.

Evoking everything from George Orwell’s 1984 where everything is legislated and nothing left to chance, where fiction is forbidden and the machine rules over all, to Jacklyn Cock’s terrifying sociological study, The War Against Ourselves, which was published in 2007 and examines the future we can anticipate, Die Laaste Woord is one of those works which hits the mark in all ways: intellectually, apocalyptically and in darkness. But it isn’t all cold stone sober. It’s a work with a social edge and one that will make you laugh in its darkest corners. This is one of those works which can stand proudly with the classics.

  • Die Laaste Woord (The Last Word) is written by Lee Doubell. Directed by Johan Rademan, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Jacques Bessenger, Deon Lotz and Rolanda Marais. It broadcasts on RSG at 8pm on 13 April, and will also be available on podcast through the radio station’s website:

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