One year after Dans van die watermeid was discovered, audiences now get the chance to 'see' her on stage at the Baxter Theatre. Dans van die watermeid first grabbed the theatre world’s attention when a reading of the initial text-idea of young playwright, Amee Lekas, was revealed at the 2016 Kunste Onbeperk Script Market. Since then, Lekas has developed it into a poignant, perception-challenging script, under the mentorship of Saartjie Botha.
With the text the product of a young, new theatre voice, was only fitting that the narrative be placed in the hands of a young, new director too. Jason Jacobs gives the insightfully developed script stage expression under the guidance of Lara Foot.
Dans van die watermeid brings the audience to the Karoo town of Willlowmore. It challenges the opinion that small town life is safer than the big city lights, as it compares the lives of those who stayed behind with those who moved (or even ran) away. According to Dominee (Abduraghmaan Adams), city winkel koekies never taste as good as homemade plaatkoekies, and Dominee is always right, “soos Dominee sê”. That is the theme the audience is introduced to, with the play initially making out a case for faith and community... or so it seems. But what is an interesting play without a twist or two?
The theme and characters develop through flashbacks, with the storyline primarily driven by siblings Kim (Rehane Abrahams) and Mills (Ephraim Gordon), along with their childhood ‘rebel’ friend, Evie (Gretchen Ramsden), as they outwardly come to terms with the absence of their mother figure, Ouma Mildred (Celeste Matthews-Wannenbürgh). It soon becomes apparent that more than just grief hides underneath the surface of church endorsed good old fashioned manners.
The theme of loss evolves into one of innocence lost through clever character changeovers. The character that initially looks to be the most troubled, proves to be the one who (regardless of own issues) attempts to keep the others grounded, while emotional turmoil pushes another to blur the lines between the present and the youthful past, with a call for help to the Watermeid who's coming is foretold by the first sign of rain.
Reality is suspended, as memories of abuse-buried transcends the boundaries of culture and community. With trusting adults exposed as silent accomplices, it is then no surprise that the youthful voices turn to the mythical Watermeid for protection - with cries of "sy kom, sy kom" - when elder imposed cultural structures have failed them so blatantly. Rain after all is a sign of renewal, but even the rain inspired maiden requires an offering.
The narrative inspired set design by Birrie le Roux not only reveals the Baxter’s Golden Arrow Studio to have depth of space that is rarely used to its full potential, but also creates an illusion twice over. Le Roux uses steel chains to trick the mind into seeing and hearing the raindrops that summons the Wartermeid, while also conjuring up a veil between the living and the dead.
The script of the play does call for a strong district influenced dialect of Afrikaans that, though beautiful to hear and brilliantly descriptive in support of the story, may take some audience members a moment or two to tune into. Once you have a grasp on that amazing Afrikaans flair, the emotion and honesty of the play draws you in.
The flashbacks, though powerful, may cause parts of the story to blur so much that it loses a bit of its impact in the stage execution thereof. These perhaps just require a more subtle scene overlap, so that some of the dialogue does not get lost when reality is suspended. Admittedly, it could also be that the feeling of confusion that the use of style (for present-to-past overlap) brings about, may very well be an intentional directional choice.
Character mannerisms and the attention to even the smallest of details (like the ritual of making tea at a certain time, using only certain cups) truly support the narrative in an important but unimposing way - it sets the scene for that which is to be revealed.
People-centred plays will always appeal, as it exposes social issues that dare not be ignored. With Dance van die watermeid, Lekas does exactly that with the aid of a talented cast and crew, who clearly all believe in the social importance of the story. This play is a stark reminder of the abuse and challenges the youth is left to face alone, because of the literal and emotional abandonment by those who should be protecting and empowering them, while also preparing them for adulthood through encouraged self-acceptance.
You have until 25 November 2017, to go and experience Dans van die watermeid at the Baxter Theatre. Tickets are available at Computicket.