To the marriage of true socialites: the admission of impediments

pophuis

VETERAN couple: Cobus Rossouw and Sandra Kotze give it horns.

IF THE COMPLICATED plight of an intelligent woman entrapped in a domestic structure, penned in the 19th century, is the kind of tale that grabs you, don’t go out tomorrow evening. Even if you’re not a Henrik Ibsen buff, Suzanne van Wijk’s Afrikaans-language translation of the Norwegian playwright’s 1879 classic A Doll’s House is a completely riveting achievement that offers an intimate and accurate reflection on the harsh complexities of what it takes to fight a system where you’re pinned to expectations, because of your gender. It’s longer than the normal radio drama in this slot, but you wouldn’t want it any other way.

With veteran performers, Cobus Rossouw and Sandra Kotzé in the leads, the work is crisply rendered, lending a three dimensionality to Kotzé’s Noora Helmer, that is haunting and reaches into the heart of feminist diatribes with poetry and pragmatics. Interestingly, this work uses space and distance in the honing of the narrative: you cannot picture them standing at microphones throughout, but rather skirting and moving through a set. It’s a fascinating device for radio which enables you to get a sense of the space in which they exist, as it implies the context of their 19th century Victorian home with all its bits and pieces, its miens and social codes.

It’s like there’s a tarantella being danced throughout the work on several levels, challenging  possibility and tradition, perception and reality, the notion of the woman as possession and a reflection on how she becomes self-possessed and takes life by its proverbial shirt front, with both hands.

A Doll’s House is a tale deeply entrenched in the social context of the 19th century, and Kotzé is on fire, not only in terms of how she evolves in the work’s duration, but also of how her Noora embraces the role she must play, as society wife and mother, that is, until she realises that the ‘wonderful thing’ she has been anticipating all her married life, with all the scrimping and saving, all the coy curtseying and demure giggling she’s done, will not come about.

Rossouw will also knock you sideways in his patronising and potent Torvald Helmer, Noora’s husband, a flawed giant, as he holds the proverbial golden key to his wife’s happiness and the social sanctity of their life together, or so he believes. He’s the unwitting casualty in the tale, one whom Noora risks fraud to save, but one socially incapable of understanding or engaging this courage or these nuances. Why? She’s a woman who it seems has forgotten her place. The fact that she has more savvy than she’s given credit for, by the system in which she exists links her to so many other classic heroines through literature.

It’s a portrait of the messy notion of marriage, of that of trust and sacrifice: and rather a damning one at that. Van Wijk’s translation and direction is utterly magnificent. It’s a work that will keep you glued to the wireless, not only because of Ibsen’s turn of hand in its construction, but also given the tight and authentic characterisation of the roles, which renders your radio a cipher to a whole universe.

  • ‘n Pophuis (A Doll’s House) is written by Henrik Ibsen and translated into Afrikaans and directed by Suzanne van Wijk. Featuring technical input by Elena Rabie and Loukie Olivier, it is performed by Fanie Bekker, Sandra Kotzé, Robert Mohr, Amanda Muller, Cobus Rossouw and Helena Scholtz, and will be broadcast on Radio Sonder Grense on Thursday May 10 at 8pm, and again on Monday May 14 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za

Theatre to stay home for

Kobus

AT the helm of the theatre of the mind: Kobus Burger, RSG’s executive producer for radio drama. Photograph courtesy RSG.

WOLWEDANS IN DIE skemer (the popular afternoon serial by Leon van Nierop) was my programme, as a child,” says Kobus Burger, executive director for drama on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), South Africa’s Afrikaans-language Public Broadcasting Service, which is under the aegis of the SABC. “If I missed an episode, it was a very serious matter.”  Radio is alive and well in this society, or is it? Burger chatted to My View about the station’s upcoming season of radio dramas, which starts on March 30 as well as the challenges of the medium.

Drama has always been close to Burger’s heart; he’s enjoyed stints as an art critic and a teacher of writing skills in his career trajectory. Indeed, he initiated the RSG Kunstefees, an arts festival all on radio, in November of 2014. It was a fascinating initiative which brought theatre fare into your life through the wireless. No jackets required. Sadly, the festival was put on a back burner, last year.

“It was budget that put this project on hold,” he says. “It was a lovely project but not part of our mandate. It was part of our innovation strategy, but not a must have. Last year we followed it up with a smaller boutique festival, called RSG Skatkis. And hopefully, if there is funding, RSG Kunstefees will be back.”

Curiously, RSG’s listenership comprises people who might not be fluent Afrikaans speakers. Burger explains that they listen because it is good quality programming and there’s something for everyone. Built on a model which evokes Springbok Radio (1950-1985), it’s a medium which warms the cockles of people’s hearts and hits on the nostalgia button, every time.

“Audio is so amazing, particularly in South Africa,” he adds. “Video is much more expensive and inconvenient because of the priceyness of data. The research says radio is still the most accessible, because people don’t always have access to TV.

“It’s immensely creative and completely non-visual. And with these kinds of limitations, you can do amazing things. You can go anywhere, do anything. It’s never a budget issue, because with audio you can literally travel to the moon, and back.”

From March 30 (Good Friday), a season of 14 Afrikaans plays will grace your radio. A play is broadcast each Thursday evening at 8pm – after Easter Friday, that is. The season begins with an Easter play by Helena Hugo – which is part of the station’s mandate. Then, with the exception of a translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Suzanne van Wijk, the season is rich with brand new names and fabulous yarns written by winners of the radio drama writing competition which has been sponsored by Sanlam for the past 22 years.

The competition generates between 120 and 130 new plays each year. With a purse of R100 000 for all the winners collectively, it’s not a bad incentive. If you win first prize, you’re looking at R37 000. And that’s for a piece of sustained writing of between 40 and 50 pages.

Growing playwrights is not uncomplicated, but it can be very rewarding, he continues. “You have to nurture your writers. New and original drama scripts can be a challenge with some Afrikaans theatre festivals. That’s probably why we see so many translations and adaptations of novels. And sometimes playwrights get precious about their work and won’t take criticism. Some insist that their first draft is the final draft. With our writers, we’re very strict in terms of enabling the best possible work to develop out of an idea. And luckily most of the radio writers like the suggestions and are excited about taking another look at their script.”

Over the next 14 weeks, My View undertakes to bring you reviews of and links to the plays comprising this year’s season of RSG winners, as we did toward the end of last years, with such remarkable works as an Afrikaans translation of Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, and Dalene Matthee’s exquisite Judasbok, as well as Marion Erskine’s chilling Akwarius, among others. We’re in for another delightful rollercoaster of diversity.

The playwrights responsible for these works include:  Sophia van Taak, a magazine journalist and TV presenter who brings Springgety to air; Lee Doubell, with his work Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, rubbish) has written before for SAfm; Albert Short, the playwright responsible for ‘n Voorlopige begrafnis (A provisional funeral), is in the finance world, then there’s a new science fiction work by seasoned writer, Schalk Schoombie.

Hittegolf (Heat wave) by Martyn le Roux is about the ozone layers breaking up – it’s a small family drama which takes on a surrealist madness. Martyn’s very interesting and he’s won a lot of acknowledgement so far in English and Afrikaans. At the moment he is developing one of his RSG radio drama scripts into a full-length feature film. It’s called Die Pelsloper and its scheduled to be screened in 2019. Martyn’s grown remarkably and he’s eager to develop with criticism. He might very well be the new generation’s PG Du Plessis.”

So what else is on the radio theatre horizon? There’s a murder mystery with nudist elements, a translation of an old folk tale which sees a father making the ultimate sacrifice when his son is trapped in a borehole. There’s a tale about the damage that gossip can bring and another is an ode to poetry and literature through the eyes of the elderly. The season is wide, the pickings are there for the listening.

  • Tune in to www.rsg.co.za 100-104fm