MY head, someone else’s body: The plight of Set Niemand in Schalk Schoombie’s Kop.
ALL SET NIEMAND really ever wanted to be was a pianist who distinguished himself from the pack. But the universe stepped in with a more complicated reward. This nifty science fiction work penned in Afrikaans by Schalk Schoombie is certainly something to cosy up to the wireless for, this Thursday night. It’s not a drama to warm the cockles of your heart in the conventional sense, but it will keep you glued to the story from the first few notes of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, which is the central thread tying the work together.
Niemand, portrayed as a child by Eloff Snyman and as an adult by Wilhelm van der Walt, is beset with what is known as Kennedy’s syndrome. It’s a spinal condition which is degenerative; deft technical design allows you to ‘see’ the damage inflicted on this young man’s sense of self. In just under an hour, the representation of the passage of time is handled with succinctness and wisdom.
And then, the possibilities of medical science steps in. And you may recall a Lindsay Duncan film in the early 1990s called Body Parts which dealt with the transplant of a murderous hand that has a mind of its own. This is the kind of thing evoked here, in this distinctly Frankensteinian tale, written within a contemporary rubric of plausible science.
While the work ends with startling and unpredictable abruptness which allows for the voice of religious believers, the point is made with clarity that will resonate with your sense of self. It’s about the intelligence of your body as you’ve taught it to do certain things, as it is about the untouchable relationship between body and soul, mind and spirit. Rather than silly gimmickry, the work touches on the magic in the therianthropes of ancient times, the man with the head of a wolf, the god with the face of an elephant, a mix of personas to create something more.
It’s an exceptionally strong piece of writing, brought to life by careful direction and editing, and of course, nuanced performances. Premised on the mythical ethos that in 1967 set Christiaan Barnard’s first successful heart transplant alive with possibility all over the world, the story touches on all the human factors of the ultimate transplant.
Make your coffee and visit the bathroom before you settle down next to the wireless on Thursday: you won’t want to miss a second of this tale.
Kop is written by Schalk Schoombie and directed by Johan Rademan. Featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Susanne Beyers, Karli Heine, Johann Nel, Eloff Snyman, Lindie Stander, Wilhelm van der Walt and André Weideman, and debuts on RSG on Thursday May 17 at 8pm. It will be rebroadcast at 1am on Monday, May 21, part of the radio station’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za
THERE’S SOMETHING INESTIMABLY exciting about a new production that is conceived of, written and brought to life by a group of practitioners that is fast becoming recognised as a repertory group in the classical tradition. Why? Simply because you have seen their work in the past, and know that you’re in safe hands when it comes to exceptionally fine theatre that tweaks the edges just that little bit to keep your focus riveted.
Think of British director Alan Bleasdale and the performers of the ilk of Julie Walters, Robert Lindsay, Lindsay Duncan and David Ross from the mid-1990s, who put together an unrivalled level of collaboration with classics and new work that even made it to South African tv screens, in the form of miniseries Melissa and Jake’s Progress. While you’re thinking of this splendid work, think of this very ensemble, headed in this production by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi, who are quietly redefining theatre making in this country, one production at a time: their relentless energy promises the Bleasedale equivalent in South Africa.
But let’s not digress. The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha is a tale woven around the values espoused in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953). But it is moored in contemporary South Africa, and amidst a rich concatenation of superstition and self-belief, members of a community who are young and ambitious and others who are old and hold onto tradition, and little girls who are vanishing with no explanation. And there’s also speak of the ghostly presence of Mamiwata, a creature, believed to be half woman, half snake, who patrols deep and quiet waters.
Blending shadow puppetry that engages the sinister in a manner so much more direct and fearsome than actors on a stage can project, the work is beautifully balanced and hard hitting in terms of social foibles and mob mentality.
But it is the performance of Nyakallo Motloung, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Meas and Star Anka that unequivocally capture the fierce yet tender bravado of little girls, while they embrace the elderly and punctuate the broader, scary tale with home truths and real South Africanisms. The work will take you from laughing out loud to shivering in your shoes, at the eerie prospect of the things out there that we cannot fathom.
The energy of the entire ensemble in creating this piece is palpable; there’s a give and take in dialogue and thinking which brings to mind the feisty dynamism in their work, Just Antigone, performed last year. When the four little girls are debating issues, it’s there. When the elders of the community are calling for a witch hunt, it’s there too.
The only downside of this extraordinarily beautifully crafted work is that it enjoyed but one performance at this festival. It deserves legs in many more contexts.
The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha is written and designed by the ensemble. It is directed by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi and features creative input by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi (lighting) and Binnie Christie (puppets and set). It was performed by Star Anka, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Meas and Nyakallo Motloung at the Downstairs Theatre on July 21, as part of the Wits 969 Festival. Visit webtickets.co.za or visit Wits 969 on facebook.