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:
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 from all accounts and early reviews, there’s a brilliant buzz about this one. There’s already talk of an English translation and travel to the Edinburgh Festival which both director and actress have experienced before.
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…)
But there were many dilemmas, such as the eventual confrontation between Nell and one of her rapists and 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. That can only benefit 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 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.
Prinsloo is one of the lucky ones. 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 still draw full auditoriums and once word is out, there’s no stopping her.
She works hard as she flies between provinces to play in different solo productions. A few weekends back she played what she believes might be the last performances of Moedertaal (her last solo outing) and she feels blessed (if slightly perplexed) that she only has Kamphoer at Aardklop. As an aside she mentions that she has also directed Hannes van Wyk in Sê Groete Vir Ma.
She will soon be seen in a new movie Racheltjie de Beer and there’s more on the horizon. She feels rejuvenated by the young guns like Christiaan Olwagen and Nico Scheepers who have opened new vistas on stage and screen but with advance notice about this latest solo season being so favourable, it will probably keep her touring for quite a few years and if an English season is added – longer.
For Prinsloo the positives are accumulating. She is excited not only about the performance but also about the timing. 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.
Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell is at Aardklop in Potchefstroom from September 24 tot 27; and at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre from October 9 to 26.