Things that can’t always be fixed

Young Caucasian Woman walking  near the sea

THE sea and my pain. Photograph supplied.

“WHAT MATTERS MOST is how well you walk through the fire”, wrote American poet Charles Bukowski. His passionate, angry words in plain language are woven through Afrikaans-language radio play Springgety (Spring Tides) with wisdom and dexterity. This tale about depression and guilt, suicide and the ultimate (but not always realised) need to claw one’s way back, will haunt you. While it never skirts into crass cliché and casts a wry smile at the need to stay afloat in a world where everything feels broken, it is slightly predictable, but this doesn’t affect its potency or its listenability or how the shock reverberates in your head at its denouement.

Lena Dreyer (Rolanda Marais) is a 26-year-old copy writer, who works for an ad agency in Cape Town. She hates it. She’s also in the process of completing her first anthology of haikus. But her sense of self is tarnished and bruised by the reality of brutal loss and how hard it is to make sense of. Indeed, she carries a full and complicated heart and memories that have suffered a wrenching.

Enter Alex (Wessel Pretorius), Lena’s neighbour. He’s a rugby-playing chap with tattoos and a full box of his own broken things, including his heart. But nothing is as it seems. And this is no love story with a happily ever after. When things became too overwhelming for Lena, an inner and relentless voice tips her over the edge. It is Alex and his dog named Beer that offer the hand that reels her back in, broken pieces and all. Does she want to be back? Of course not. But then there’s Jane (Roelien Daneel): an airhostess fatigued of the superficial lipsticked smile, the faux glamour and the tired mile-high-club of her job. She’s fatigued by much else too, but her front is a brave, almost callous one. And you almost believe in her courage.

There’s a hard-edged yet insufferably brittle nature to this character, and her cynicism speaks to the times: but further to that, there’s a sense of gritty self-possession which might make you think of the debauched but moral energies in a film such as Johnny is Nie Dood Nie, which examines the life and time of Johannes Kerkorrel. It’s an interesting comparison, not the least because Marais performed in that work too.

But Springgety will haunt you for reasons other than the obvious ones. It’s a well crafted work that throws up the urgency with which we cling to life and try to force others to, also. Is it about meddling in other people’s intimacies, or is it about the frail shard of connection that makes each of us understand the one medically described as ‘suicidal’ in ways we haven’t the courage to explain or describe?

  • Springgety (Spring Tide) is written by Sophia van Taak, who was awarded third place in the 2017 Sanlam young playwright competition. Directed by Ronél Geldenhuys and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Susanne Beyers, Joanie Combrink, Roelien Daneel, Rolanda Marais, Wessel Pretorius, Cintaine Schutte, Juanita Swanepoel and Daneel van der Walt. It will be broadcast on RSG on Thursday April 12 at 8pm and again on the station’s all night programme, Deurnag, on Monday April 16. It is also, available on podcast:

Undone: a play that defines a universe

Undone: a play that will change you. Photograph courtesy

Undone: a play that will change you. Photograph courtesy

Very seldom does a piece of writing have the ability to reach into your heart and soul, not because you are strung along by your own inner realities and there’s a way in which you respond to the story, but because it is conceived and written and created with such wisdom and power that it sucks you into its reality. And leaves you changed.

It is not every day that you can encounter as sophisticated a theatrical voice as that of Wessel Pretorius, in his immensely visceral, utterly magnificent production, Undone – or Ont, in Afrikaans (in different performances, the main calibrating language of the work is either English or Afrikaans).

A young performer – he’s not yet 30 – and a relative newcomer to the professional stage, Pretorius conveys a tale of the loss of a parent that brings in everything from childhood nursery rhymes to driving lessons to the horror of witnessing a stroke and the sadness of a love that never has the courage to be articulated. It’s about the concatenation of age and youth and the manner in which empathy is faced with cruelty at every turn. The tale has the potency of William Faulkner’s As I lay dying, and the give and take between English and Afrikaans lends it a texture that you want to consume and embody and hold onto and not allow yourself to forget it, it is so rich and magnetic.

It begins with the young man bathing in a tin bath. There’s a candid bareness about everything, from the soap and the well-thumbed poetry book on the floor, alongside his teacup and cigarette, to the suitcase and the record player that constitute the whole theatrical ensemble.  Pretorius has a stage presence that is nothing short of mesmerising: yes, there’s nudity in this work, but the manner in which the play evolves and is constructed and the finesse and muscularity with which it is delivered is such that the nudity slips out of relevance or notice.

The texture of the play’s script digresses and caresses the language and its meaning without becoming maudlin. It’s an angry play, which has moments of dark humour as it embraces belly-deep sadness, with the whimsical rhythm of comforting children’s poems that ensnare you in a magnificently subtle mix of values, good and bad, complicated and simple, transient and permanent.

Undone is the kind of play that celebrates Afrikaans culture for its inherent beauty, but doesn’t flinch from exposing such deep ugliness in social interaction that it touches on all the emotions, from humour to tragedy. Unforgettably. If you see one play, in your life, make it this one. And, remember the name Wessel Pretorius.

  • Undone/Ont is written, directed and performed by Wessel Pretorius, features translation by Hennie van Greunen and lighting and set design by Alfred Rietmann. It performs at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, until September 20. Call 0118321641 or visit