From the first few moments, as the light illuminates the solitary figure of Sandra Prinsloo where she stands on a beach, you can sense a cloak of sadness that wraps around her. It is not heavy, nor depressing, but authentic with a sense of understanding as it fills the air as much as her presence does. You instantly know that, as with her previous one-woman shows, the Moedertaal-monologue to follow will not shy away from the reality of life.
The reverential script crafted by director Nico Scheepers (which he workshopped with Prinsloo) weaves words into poetry, as every nuance, pause, sigh, or smile between lines carry a meaning that brings a rhythm to this production. This though does not feel contrived. The text carries a natural rhythm that moves the audience along with the emotional tide of the character, Nellie – tomboy, wife, mother, and teacher.
With the text, Scheepers pays tribute to all the Nellies out there – those who love with abandon, in the most ordinary but powerful of ways, by just being themselves. This in turn is reflected in Prinsloo’s mannerisms, body language, and even in her expressive eyes.
Nellie speaks her life into story through degrees of love – quite brilliantly at times by telling her story in reserve. She is but Nellie who played amongst the Marula trees and became Nellie who lived, loved, and lost on the shores of Melkbostrand. In the lifetime she experienced on her journey from kakiebos to fynbos, she reveals who captured her heart and soul, and who was master of his in return – her wordsmith Geppetto and her heart of clay Pinocchio.
The dynamic combo of Prinsloo and Scheepers (who also composed the music that perfectly complements the poetic monologue), builds the character of Nellie in a simplistic fashion, modestly as she is, but never makes her seem one-dimensional or uninteresting. On the contrary, through the named memorial rocks that pave out her life towards her husband, Johannes, and her son, Roelfie, you find her to be quite wise in her pragmatic sensibility. You get to know her as woman with no filter, but a big heart and a clear understanding that even the smallest beings and moments deserve compassion. She connects with you through her honesty and authenticity, as she shows herself warts and all – proudly so.
As Nellie confides in the audience, she unveils that so much happens in the day-to-day existence of those, people merely sitting on a beach bench, we so dismissively pass by. She reminds that just pausing to get to know someone who more easily converses with seagulls than people, and radiates a bit of an Ingrid Jonker or Virginia Woolf essence, can add a world of depth to your own. She shows that there are small moments of wonder, amongst the turmoil, that bring balance to a life. Yet, she also does not shy away from the certainty that there is also a sense of finality, which some can choose, while others are left begging to be given the same escapism discretion.
Just like the ebb and flow of the ocean, now beached by the unexpected twist and turns of her deceptively ordinary journey, Nellie unearths and covers her sorrows with sharp wit, humour, tears, and a humanity that Prinsloo so strongly brings to all the characters she portrays. You soon realise that not everyone waits for the calm after the storm. Sometimes they crave the release and relief of a riptide, as all the sand pyramids on the beach are not all sand castles that just lost form… some of those are memories and memorials waiting for the freedom the ocean teases them with daily.
The Fugard Theatre Studio is the perfect venue for this production: Its intimacy accentuates that of Moedertaal. Having seen this production before, it has finally found a home where it can give expression to the nuances that so easily get lost in larger halls that don’t celebrate the sacred character of theatre in the same manner the script, performance, set and lighting design, and this space, collectively do.
To experience the eloquent and authentic emotion, collaboratively captured by Scheepers and Prinsloo, in the Naskrif Produksies presented Moedertaal, book your tickets at Computicket to see it at the Fugard Theatre before run ends 2 December 2017. Please note the play is performed in Afrikaans with English surtitles.