KAMPHOER DIE VERHAAL VAN SUSAN NELL. Afrikaans drama co-authored by Cecilia du Toit, Sandra Prinsloo and Lara Foot. With Sandra Prinsloo. Directed by Lara Foot. Set and Lighting by Patrick Curtis. Photographs by Jesse Kramer. Presented at Golden Arrow Theatre, Baxter Theatre Centre.
THERESA SMITH reviews
Sandra Prinsloo delivers a tour de force performance in the one-woman Afrikaans drama Kamphoer.
Taking their cue from Francois Smit’s book Cecilia du Toit, together with Sandra Prinsloo and director Lara Foot jointly worked up this powerful stage version of the story of Susan Nell. The drama may be mostly set around the turn of the previous century but it is as timely now as it will ever be. Sadly.
The story is that of a woman raped and left for dead in an Anglo-Boer war concentration camp who is forced to confront her feelings of survivor’s guilt, shame, anger, and so much more when she meets one of her attackers years later.
The play explores a little discussed facet of the Anglo-Boer war – the Afrikaner woman’s experience in the concentration camps. While so much of the stories that do get told of the conflict of this time concentrates on the men’s war experience, this play touches lightly on the role of the women who sent their men off to battle with a firm admonishment that they were perfectly capable of running their farms alongside their daughters. But mostly it deals with the after effects of the main female character surviving a brutal attack.
Emotionally affecting in its searing, almost brutal honesty about the animus she feels towards her attacker, the play doesn’t answer whether revenge would make her feel better, but it does make us as the audience uncomfortably question how we would feel in the same situation.
Patrick Curtis’ effective lighting and set design do much to create a moody, haunting atmosphere. His broken lace tent structure made me think of Miss Haversham haunting her house in her tattered wedding gown in Great Expectations, though that was probably not his first or even second inspiration.
The thing that makes this play though, what keeps your eyes glued to the stage even when you know it is a nasty, brutal story you are about to hear, is Prinsloo’s intense, emotionally affecting performance. The director keeps her touch light, the play does not contain the stamp of her ensemble pieces, but it is felt in the confidence she clearly displays in her actor to bring the character to life while still giving her enough structure to not go over the top, because the potential is there.
Flitting back and forth in the chronological order of the story, Prinsloo brings the character to life as both teenager and older woman. Again the lighting and staging does much to help her delineate the various stages of the character, but it all comes down to whether Prinsloo makes you believe she is the character, and she does.
For 75 minutes you are swept up into this woman’s life and you feel her pain, confusion and anger, whether you want to or not.
What: Kamphoer Die Verhaal van Susan Nell
Where and when: Golden Arrow Theatre, Baxter Theatre Centre until 26 October 2019