Sandra Prinsloo has established herself as the queen of solo shows. She knows how to pick them and with whom to collaborate. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her latest venture, Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell, with Lara Foot, CEO/artistic director of The Baxter, as director:
That was then, 2019, when Kamphoer made its debut at the Vrystaat Arts Festival and this is now, with its latest (and for now, last) run. The times slots for the run of Kamphoer opening on January 27 until February 14 at Joburg’s Market Theatre are Tuesday – Saturday 6pm; and Sunday 3pm. This is to accommodate the curfew times imposed by level 3 regulations. The Market Theatre celebrates 45 years and marks this milestone with this solo production presented by two audacious artists. They urge patrons to arrive at 5.30pm so they can allow sufficient time for getting screened. Masks need to be worn at all times. The production transfers to the Roodepoort Theatre from 16 – 28 February also performing to the new time slots Tuesday – Saturday 6pm and Sunday 3pm.
Here follows the initial story (updated) about this marvellous production which should be seen as widely as possible in Gauteng. With so little theatre around because of Covid19, to see one of the best in these times, is thrilling:
It’s the coming together of two talented artists who haven’t worked together before that can create fireworks on stage.
That’s exactly what has happened with leading actress Sandra Prinsloo and dynamic director Lara Foot. When they bumped into one another and Prinsloo said that Kamphoer was her next project, Foot acknowledged interest – and they made it happen.
That was probably the only simple element in their coming together. They were handed the initial script by their producers and with scriptwriter Cecilia du Toit in tow, they knew they still had a long way to go.
Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell (based on the best-selling and debut novel Kamphoer by Francois Smit and the non-fiction publication The Boer Whore by Nico Moolman and produced by Theatrerocket Productions) is the amazing true story set against the backdrop of the Anglo Boer War. A prisoner in the Winburg Concentration Camp, Nell is brutally raped by two British soldiers and a joiner and left for dead. She is confronted by one of her rapists many decades later when she tends war victims in a British hospital – where she starts reliving the old trauma.
“It was a process,” says Prinsloo, but as Foot is also a writer, it was also a huge but fascinating learning curve for Prinsloo. Because of the way the books are written, the main character, the one Prinsloo portrays, doesn’t emerge strongly.
What she does is more prominent than who she is. But the breadth of her experiences also presented them with many obstacles. “She manages to go through so much in a relatively short period of time,” explains the actress.
But being the experienced theatre makers they are, they found the solutions and if you have read any of the books and see the production, you will understand how brilliantly it was pulled off. (Talk of an English translation and travel to the Edinburgh Festival which both director and actress have experienced before, has been put on hold which has happened to almost everything planned in the theatre world.)
Once they got talking, the women knew they had to discover who this woman was and how to present her. Who was she talking to? And what part of her journey do they cover and which parts do they leave out?
Foot made a construction graph, signposting the different features important in a text – to begin with. “It was very technical but taught me a great deal,” notes Prinsloo.
The presentation they decided should almost play in a kind of Truth and Reconciliation format. It also starts with the words, “Ek is Susan Nell…”(I am Susan Nell…)
There were however many more headscratchers, such as the eventual confrontation between Nell and one of her rapists and again, the solution, a brainwave by Foot, is the perfect one.
This is a dramatic and traumatic story of one woman’s life and in present times, particularly relevant as the more things change, the more they stay the same. The dignity she fought for in her own life is exactly what so many women are still fighting for. Few will not identify with some of her life and that is the truly sad thing.
When she finds herself in the same room as her rapist, as a therapist she has sworn a medical oath to save lives – even if the only thing she wants to do is to kill this man who had so damaged her life.
What Prinsloo loves about the piece is how they are telling the story. “I play the character at different ages, but there are no huge shifts, even when I switch into different characters,” she says. It flows seamlessly.
She also embraces the staging, adores the set and has lost her heart to the music and the fact that composer Simon Kohler attended rehearsals and did quite a measured yet magical soundtrack to what was being said on stage. It hugely benefits the final result.
Prinsloo has become a master of the solo show and while she enjoys huge ensemble casts and does many of those too, this journey has been a joyous if tough one. She loved the encouragement from her director, the choices Foot made, the consultation – in fact the full process.
Kamphoer is an epic tale but Foot managed the timelines and flew across continents and back to honour the Susan Nell story. “It was amazing to rehearse in a theatre space (Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre in 2019) and to have everything we needed on hand,” says an actress who has gone through many phases of the South African theatre landscape. The last few decades have often been rough on individual players with very little support from outside. And now there’s Covid19 to contend with.
Her most recent production was also her most recent solo show, Spertyd, based on Elsa Joubert’s autobiographical book dealing with the author at 95 reflecting on her life. Directed and adapted by the innovative Philip Rademeyer, it had a short run at Cape Town’s Boer Theatre but has also come to a sudden halt with the harsh Covid19 restrictions.
A plucky Prinsloo has always had a gritty approach to her work. From her early days she has been a force in the profession which she has served magnificently – and still does. She is one of the few names who always draws full auditoriums and she seldomly fails to deliver.
She works hard as she flies between provinces to play in different solo productions. She can currently be seen in the film Racheltjie de Beer on DStv and there’s more on the horizon. She feels rejuvenated by the young guns like Rademeyer, Christiaan Olwagen and Nico Scheepers who have opened new vistas on stage and screen and with yet more accolades for Kamphoer which has come full circle starting with a festival opening in 2019, followed by Aardklop 2019, the Baxter Theastre in October 2019 and Woordfees 2020, which could still be accommodated before the Covid19 restrictions and now a protected run at Joburg’s Market Theatre.
For Prinsloo the positives around this production accumulated. But more than anything, she is excited not only about the performance but also about the timing of this particular story. It’s the right time for women to tell stories about strong women who overcome extreme adversity. “Healing can only start if you touch the scar,” she says referring to the play – but also valid in a much wider context.
So much time has passed, so many battles fought and still the issues for women remain the same. It’s time those with the voices start raising them – loudly. And if you can do it with Prinsloo’s power, it really counts.
If you understand Afrikaans, this is a story that will speak to everyone – and with two great dames coming together, actor Sandra Prinsloo in spectacular form guided by the inspirational director Lara Foot, it’s theatre that should be cherished. Everything about this production is pure gold but because of the pandemic, as a live performance on a local stage, it’s also rare and precious.
Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell made its debut at Vrystaat Arts Festival 2019 in Potchefstroom before a run that same year at Aardklop and Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre. It played its last season at the 2020 Woordfees but its concluding KKNK festival run was cancelled because of Covid19. For the time being, this current Market and Roodepoort Theatre season is its final tour de force. This might change in the future as new opportunities present.