Theatrerocket’s acclaimed Kamphoer, starring Sandra Prinsloo and directed by Lara Foot, challenges the audience to deal with the theme of survival. Although Kamphoer is set in the time of the Anglo-Boer War, it’s not a deconstruction of history, but rather a reconstruction of a resilient soul.
A stage adaptation of Francois Smith’s novel by the same name and the non-fiction The Boer War by Nico Moolman, Kamphoer is a journey of reclaimed control, identity and home. The focal point is the story of a woman (from the age of 17, into her golden years) and her confrontation with a violent past and the traumatic memories that threatened to define her, while also honouring the unexpected friends who helped her escape death (both physically and emotionally).
Although Susan Nell’s life was shattered during her time in the Winburg concentration camp —where she was raped by British Soldiers and left for dead— the question posed in Kamphoer is not who the aggressors were (although their names and presence are narratively of contextual relevance as her life takes an unexpected turn), but rather who Susan Nell was. In fact, the tone of the play is set by the commandingly uttered statement, “Ek is Susan Nell.”
When it comes to one-person plays, it’s an undeniable truth that Sandra Prinsloo is a majestic force. She can draw her audience into a narrative with great sincerity, and she does so again in Kamphoer. With the multidimensional direction of Lara Foot, Prinsloo vividly embodies Susan Nell’s evolution from victim to survivor.
The intuitive soundscape by Simon Kohler sets the mood for the unfolding tale. The set by Patrick Curtis adds a busy discovery-element to Susan Nell’s revelations, visually revealing her complex story as an interesting obstacle course aimed at amplifying the narrative. Although the set design is devastatingly beautiful (with warm lighting playing off a tent of lace-shards, and vintage suitcases filled with symbolic rocks) at times it draws attention away from the moments where a pure celebration of text implores only Prinsloo’s emotive performance for it to sing —such a thread of simplicity in an intricately tragic telling with witty reprisals may have taken an already impressive production to even greater heights.
As the dramatic narrative builds to a climax, Prinsloo leaves you breathless with prominence and sadness of what stands as a timeless tale. The universal evils and disasters Susan Nell had to overcome, and bravely did, calls for consideration, confrontation and illumination more than a 100 years later.
You can experience Susan Nell’s moving standoff with her memories and her monsters in the Theatrerocket presented Kamphoer - die verhaal van Susan Nell at the Baxter Theatre. Run ends 26 October 2019, with tickets available online through Webtickets.