La Chair de ma Chair (Flesh of my Flesh) is a two-hander clowning performance by Buhle Ngaba and Klara van Wyk, directed and designed by Penelope Youngleson, that forms part of the exciting 2018 National Arts Festival programme.
Fashioned after the male-centric double acts of South Africa’s protest theatre trope, the production consciously self-references the palimpsests of these canons – including prominent productions like The Island and Woza Albert —to interrogate our local performance heritage and, in particular, its relationship to womxn as theatre activists and change-agents.
Ngaba, Van Wyk, and Youngleson share #10TheatreFacts about this production that will see #NAF18 festivalgoers observe two South African clowns in limbo: One black, one white; living in a future South Africa beyond time, in a dystopia of Women’s Day pink ribbons, fuchsia-glitter quicksand and the bloodied afterbirth of a new, New South Africa.
1. How are you involved with La Chair De Ma Chair?
Van Wyk: I am mainly the clown performer. But La Chair de Ma Chair will be a highly collaborative process so Buhle Ngaba and I will be sewing, clowning, painting and devising parts of the script, whilst Penny Youngleson will run the mothership as director, writer and set and sound designer.
2. Where does the idea for La Chair De Ma Chair come from?
Ngaba: We spoke about making a show together two years ago. In our conversations at the time, we weren’t sure when or how the work might be presented, so we threw together some really insane ideas into one folder. The folder had everything from ruffles, lace, lyrics, videos, nipple hats, fabric etc. We left the folder alone for a while, but for some reason this show has just insisted on being made and now it’s happening. I don’t know if that really answers your question, but in short; the idea of La Chair De Ma Chair came to us in the most unlikely way and that’s the sort of play it is. Unlikely.
3. As a production, what genre of theatre best describes it?
Van Wyk: I am tentative to call it ‘clown-theatre’, just because it is the topic of my PhD and I am not even sure I know what that means, but we are using this platform to explore traditions of French clowning against the backdrop of our own inheritance of South African protest theatre.
Youngleson: Storytelling and magical realism had a red-headed stepchild called clowning.
Ngaba: I think that one of the great challenges of making work like this is that it feels like we are creating a new language. So to be very honest, I’m not sure that we know what genre of theatre this is yet, and I think we have accepted that to be an important aspect of its creation. As Klara has said, we are exploring traditions of French clowning theatre against our own inheritance of SA protest theatre, but we are also growing fake flowers in what we imagine to be a new new South Africa, making and sewing new flags for our bit of nation and are spreading sonskyn in the form of glitter. I don’t know what genre it is, but I do know that it’s set to make people feel something. What that is, is yet to be discovered I guess, haha.
4. How would you briefly describe La Chair De Ma Chair to someone who has no idea what it is about to convince him or her that this is a festival must see show?
Van Wyk: There will be glitter and trampolines and if nothing else two awkward clowns on a big stage, if anything, I think it will be exciting.
5. What do you like most about La Chair De Ma Chair?
Ngaba: How we are all so dedicated to finding something new. By that I mean that we are all very different kinds of theatre makers, but we have somehow managed to find a synergy in our search for a new language. We are building and tearing simultaneously and that kind of freedom is exhilarating.
6. Who would be the ideal audience member to come see La Chair De Ma Chair?
Van Wyk: I think anyone over 12, who agrees that they too are currently living in the middle of a ridiculous apocalyptic world and want to see it mirrored in bright pink, should feel welcome.
7. What about La Chair De Ma Chair do you think will fascinate or captivate audiences most?
Youngleson: The performers’ dexterity in heightened text and meticulous technique - and the conscious vulnerability and nakedness of embracing their clowns. It’s a very delicate balance of two things that don’t always sit comfortably side by side at the table.
8. Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite line from La Chair De Ma Chair?
Youngleson: 'Bangamathenolimi' (they are as close as spittle and tongue). It’s an old isiZulu proverb about two people who are inseparable. And it suits these two clowns very well.
9. What message or experience would you like the audience to take away from seeing La Chair De Ma Chair?
Youngleson: To get to know your country and its people sooner rather than later. We assume South Africa is a homogenous thing that will always be, for better or worse. And a lot of us spend our time trying to preserve the past, for better or worse. It is not better, and it is not worse. It’s a swarm of people and language and culture and identities that all need to be seen and acknowledged at the same time to be allowed to be itself in this time, right now. That urgency and excitement for all of us and our shared experiences would be an ideal response, in my opinion.
10. What does theatre as a lifestyle mean to you?
Van Wyk: Making a living off selling Checkers ‘Little Garden’ seeds, might be more profitable, but this month my work basically happens on the inside of a glitter bath bomb with people I love and that make me laugh every day, so I count myself lucky.
Venue: Graeme College
Dates: 4 & 5 July
Director: Penny Youngleson
Written by: Penny Youngleson
Featured Artists: Klara van Wyk and Buhle Ngaba
Age Restriction: 12+ (ML)