Rehane Abrahams’s bold and provocative one-hander Womb of Fire, directed by Sara Matchett, comes to the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio for a short season, from 18 April to 5 May at 8.15pm. Nominated for three awards at the recent Stellenbosch University Woordfees in the categories for Best Play, Best Director and Best Performer, the play has gained acclaim since its premier at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2017. Earlier this year it was staged at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala in India.
Cue Media at the National Arts Festival said, “Womb of Fire explores the female body in its embodiment of power and agency. There is no better performer to encapsulate this than Abrahams – the precision of her movements and the authority of her voice combine to envelope the audience in a display of powerful femininity.” Cape Argus described it as “a deeply moving exploration of three women that presents them not only as victims, but sheds light into who they were beneath the vulnerability.”
The play intricately weaves together the lives and journeys of three dynamic and complex women in history and Hindu mythology. It takes from the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, as well as the little-known struggles of two women from the founding years of the Cape Colony in 17th century South Africa.
Abrahams performs all three - Draupadi, one of the most important female feminist icons from an early Indian epic; the Khoekhoen (Khoi) Zara who was employed as a servant from a young age and Grote Katrijn, the first female bandit slave who was banished to the Cape.
The play reaches back and forward across time as it follows Grote Katrijn’s journey across India to Batavia and then to Cape Town in the 1600s, the briefly brutal life of Zara who was violently punished posthumously by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for her crime of suicide, and the outspoken Indian deity Draupadi who had five husbands.
“I was drawn to these three troublesome women who’s stories and are not well known and yet are riveting and explosive,” explains Abrahams. “I wanted to interweave their personal narratives with contemporary realities to give them a voice today. The play uses the female body to disrupt the status quo and these characters challenge the laws of the land. It is no longer a lament, but a roar.”
Design for the production is by Craig Leo with hauntingly beautiful vocal accompaniment by Lukhanyiso Skosana.
Womb of Fire was conceptualised by Sara Matchett and Rehane Abrahams, both co-founders of The Mothertongue Project, a women’s arts collective with a 17-year history of engaging integrated arts methodologies as a means of activating personal and social transformation. In 2000, Rehane and Sara created works like What the Water Gave Me (the production that birthed The Mothertongue Project). And now, 17 years later, they bring their latest collaboration to the stage.
While What the Water Gave Me traced Rehane’s paternal line, Womb of Fire follows her maternal lineage. The catalyst for the text came from conversations that she had with her mother, well-known chef Cass Abrahams, about ancestry and grandmothers.
The seed for the two to collaborate again on this production was planted in Manipur, North East India where Rehane and Sara were visiting the Kalakshetra Manipur Theatre Company. They see this as the beginning of a larger body of work that researches the transmigration of souls and how ancestral memories live in the bodies of those who follow.
“My compulsion to make a new work also came out of my PhD research which explores the body as a site for generating images for performance making,” says Matchett. “Rehane was one of the co-investigators on the project and the development process was the result of a particular performance-making methodology that the research proposes.”
Womb of Fire previews at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio on 18 April, opens on 19 April and runs until 5 May at 8.15pm. Tickets are R100 and booking for Womb of Fire is through Webtickets or selected Pick n Pay stores. There is an age restriction of 13 years.
For discounted school or group block bookings, fundraisers or charities contact Sharon Ward on 021 680 3962 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Carmen Kearns on 021 680 3993 or email her at email@example.com