We were so excited about the one woman play Woman Alone hitting the Cape Town theatre scene, after it received rave reviews at the NAF, that we snuck in to meet with director Christo Davids and actress Lee-Ann van Rooi, while they were rehearsing at the Baxter Theatre on Sunday, 30 August 2015.
Sitting down with Christo, it was undeniable that this is indeed a "passion project" for him. Having been introduced to the story of Dannelene Noach when gifted her biography by his TV-Mom, 7de Laan’s Vinette Ebrahim, 5 years ago, his fascination with the idea of telling her story (the heroic story of an extraordinary woman who now lives an ‘ordinary’ life in Kraaifontein after having survived the nightmare of unjustified incarceration in Saudi Arabia with only her faith to cling to) has only grown stronger. Enforced by his own Mom’s question of when he will be directing a play with some flesh again, “iets soos Bullets”, after a stint of great comedy shows like Platform 9 and Titanik, he was set on a divine path to give this story a stage.
He animatedly explains that he early on encountered a problem (apart from the mammoth task of working down a 60 page script to 29 pages), he did not immediately have an actress in mind that could do justice to Dannelene as a determined woman of substance. That is until he saw Lee-Ann walk out of a show at the Artscape … “Toe sy na my toe aangeloop kom, kom daai vrou se hele gesig na my toe aangeloop”. He then and there just knew she was the only actress with the right presence and commitment this role demands, in fact deserves: “Lee-Ann doesn’t Mickey Mouse through things, she works it full on. It’s either everything or nothing.”
What always amazes me when I get the opportunity to talk theatre with Christo, is his talent to rather facilitate than just direct a play, because as he admits “we all know where the story is going”. He however has a talent of facilitating ‘the voice link’ between script and actor, and in developing that link, bringing the story to life.
“I love acting, but I find myself more as a director,” he says, “it’s a happy place to see something come to life.”
When asked, what inspires him to tackle plays that take years to develop, allowing him to actually grow with the product, he powerfully states, “If it is not going to challenge you as the director or not going to challenge the actor, why are you doing it?” For him it comes down to a simple question, “Wat wil ek leer uit die project uit as ek hier uit loop?”
With that in mind, we just had to ask what has Chritso learnt from Woman Alone? He pauses, “Sjoh, faith vir een! The play also helped with my confidence. Daar is net een person met wie ek kan praat. All your notes are directed at one person. Daar is nie nog twee ander mense vir wie jy kan sê ‘here listen’ nie, it’s just her… and Lee-Ann is a drama lecturer! You know what I mean!”
That there is mutual respect between director and actress here is undeniable, regardless of the fact that Christo was a mere 11 years old when Lee-Ann graduated as a drama student. It is the text, and their respect for the story and the process that binds them as equals to this show.
Christo’s vision of only doing plays that present a challenge is the same sentiment Lee-Ann shared when asked why she feels so strongly about this production. Her short answer, it showcases the power of hope, because “it’s an inspirational piece that makes you question, ‘What do you do when severely under pressure?’”
For Lee-Ann the inspiration of Dannelene’s story lies in “her strength of character… It is easy to give up, but she sticks to her truth en maak vir jou skaam. Laat jou vrae ‘hoeveel keer het jy al opgegee?’”
Lee-Ann passionately continues that Dannalene is someone the youth should be looking up to, a woman who showed both physical and mental strength when threatened, incarcerated for nothing but telling the truth. “They should rather look up to people like her, and not the cheesy easy American way [of celebrity] where externalisation is everything.”
During a quick side bar, we did catch something 'theatre wise' that was not necessarily Woman Alone related... Christo believes Cape Town audiences have a high standard expectation for productions in general, not because they are difficult, but because Cape Town is our West End. Now that we like!
If it is indeed high standard and substance Cape Town audiences want, that is precisely what you will get with the powerful performance of Lee-Ann in this play. Just read our Scene It to see why her portrayal of Dannelene is absolute perfection, as indeed proclaimed by that heroic lady herself on opening night at the Baxter.
In essence though, Woman Alone is more than just a play about tolerance, it’s about acceptance and empowerment, all wrapped up in a four letter word … HOPE.
Christo and Lee-Ann don’t fear that the religious element (a Christian woman detained in a Muslim country) will get a negative reaction, as religious and cultural difference are just the context and not the crux of this play. Lee-Ann adds “it’s a story about the bare essence of her as a human being… everything was taken away from her”.
Ultimately Christo’s vision is that the audience walks away feeling personally enriched with inner strength, inspired by a woman who was detained for 99 days, who never gave up, refused to break and ultimately walked out stronger.
For Lee-Ann, she embraces this as a ‘human condition’ story (the type she is naturally drawn to when it comes to choice of projects), because it allows her to search for the realness in the character, “what makes an ordinary person tick”. It gives her the opportunity to show the audience that you don’t need to be a celebrity to have a sense of self-worth, because the ‘ordinary’ people are in fact the extraordinary people.
Ultimately, as set designer and Jester Productions co-producer Jody Abrahams declared, this is a play that showcases a strong woman! Just take a listen here …
Woman Alone runs at the Baxter Theatre until Saturday 19 September, 2015. Tickets are R110 to R120 and are available at Computicket.