Woordfees: Melk en Vleis

March 9, 2018

’n Vrou sukkel om haarself in haar huwelik te laat geld, en die spanning in hul verhouding veroorsaak vir haar en haar man probleme. Hierdie produksie is deel van die US Woordfees. Kaartjies deur Computicket.

When a farmer (Neels van Jaarsveld) refuses to follow his wife’s (Ilse Roos) business advice —and puts pressure on her to have another child— their marriage feels the strain. This play, written by Marina Albertyn and directed by Marthinus Basson, presents a young voice’s take on the relationship dynamics within a couple who are beginning to feel the pressure that ostensibly appears when a wife is a few years older than her husband. 

The set and lighting design immediately evoke a farm kitchen setting circa 25 years ago, and the play starts with a woman (Nomkhita Bavuma) in a housekeeper’s uniform humming to herself as she burns mpepo. This beautiful opening scene hints at the imminent unfolding of a thought-provoking exploration of the rampant tensions in a traditional Afrikaans household during a time of great change, but although the play contains a number of discussion-worthy moments, it doesn’t quite deliver on its initial promise. 

The two main characters experience dizzying ups and downs and often lash out suddenly without much obvious impetus. The woman descends into bitterness rather rapidly, and the man reveals a hitherto entirely unseen side to his personality at whiplash-inducing speed. Some more clearly developed traits include the woman’s painfully condescending attitude to her black housekeeper’s daughter (Sesethu Zamxaka), whom she clearly sees as a project of sorts, and the man’s resistance to change.

The housekeeper and her daughter seem almost tangential to the action of the play and aren’t granted the opportunity to become actual fleshed-out characters, but perhaps this is an intentional reflection of these characters’ standing in the average white middle-class household at this time in our country’s history. Another somewhat puzzling choice concerns that of the appearance of an actual child actor during the final moments of the play, after only a recording of a child’s voice had been heard until that point whenever the woman interacted with her off-stage child. 


Judging by audience reaction, the play’s decidedly dark themes may not have been pitched (or received) correctly. Many audience members laughed uproariously at the on-stage expression of racist or otherwise outdated sentiments that were probably intended to reveal something of the characters’ flaws and prejudices and of the realities of the early years after the end of apartheid. 

The flashbacks to the early days of the couple’s relationship are executed very well, and afford the audience the opportunity to see the man and woman as they once were, and perhaps as they could have been had time and life not interfered. Roos and Van Jaarsveld are at their best during these scenes where they are able to showcase their characters’ endearing vulnerabilities. The quiet moments at the end of the play are also very effective.

Melk en Vleis is part of the US Woordfees and can still be seen on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of March. Tickets are available through  Computicket or at the door. 


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