This one-man production, deftly adapted by Pieter van Zyl from the Athol Fugard short story To Whom It Must Concern, tells the story of Roelf, a train driver who goes on a very different kind of journey than the sort he’s used to in order to heal a devastating wound. Two weeks after the tragic death of a woman and her child under the wheels of his train, Roelf realises he may not be as untouched by the accident as he’d thought. When the nightmares won’t stop, Roelf resolves to find out who the unknown woman was, no matter where his search may take him.
The stage remains bare except for a black block and a piece of clothing. Lighting is kept simple throughout, and the only music emanates from the performer himself as he sporadically hums a quiet melody. (His rendition of ‘Silent Night’ is mesmerising.) The actor has virtually no props or effects to hide behind, and we consequently see the main character at his most vulnerable.
The narrative is stitched together using patches of information supplied by those around Roelf. His therapist, a friend, a mortuary assistant, and his wife are among those who relay their takes on what may or may not have happened to Roelf. Van Zyl takes on all these roles with ease. He morphs seamlessly from train driver to therapist and back, and brings a few delicate touches of humanity to each new character, never descending into stereotype or tired trope.
Van Zyl’s sober, considered approach in his portrayal of Roelf is disarming from his first steps on to the stage. By stripping his performance down to its essential parts, Van Zyl effortlessly guides the audience through Roelf’s feverish search for the dead woman’s identity to his acceptance of his own new purpose.
The Woman with a Baby on her Back is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival and can be seen on the 27th, 29th, and 30th of September at the Bindery Lab.