Sandra Prinsloo has this past decade proved her weight in gold as someone who easily slips into a solo show, packs a punch because she knows how to pick them and pulls in the audiences because of her track record. Her latest production is based on the Elsa Joubert memoir Spertyd (Cul-De-Sac) which deals with the author’s aversion to ageing which will be performed at Pretoria’s Atterbury Theatre from April 20 to 25. DIANE DE BEER speaks to Philip Rademeyer who adapted the book as well as directed the play:
After director/playwright Philip Rademeyer had read Elsa Joubert’s book, he knew he wanted to both adapt and direct the play.
While his parents aren’t old, they are ageing and just on the first reading he already had more insight, he says about Joubert’s memoir Spertyd (Cul de Sac) which deals with her personal ageing process.
But he also relished the opportunity at a second chance to direct the stunning Sandra Prinsloo, who had previously been part of the Soebatsfontein cast. This solo production would give him the opportunity again to work with someone whose art and work ethic he admired.
“I was quite intimidated the first time round,” he explains, but in the meantime he had experienced in full force Prinsloo’s humanity – a rare human being. He knew this was going to be a learning experience with rich rewards. “She has such a wealth of experience,” he notes and that doesn’t even take into account her abundant talent.
Because of lockdown, he was given the time to spend on the script as well as the collaboration of Prinsloo and producers Alexa Strachan and Margit Meyer-Rödenbeck. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The problems started with an adaptation that meant stripping a memoir of 200 pages into a script of 20. “We decided early on that the focus would be as the author herself described it, “a journey through the continent of ageing”.
He had the luxury of reworking one draft after the next until everybody was satisfied or as close as they could achieve.
It also meant that by the time he and Prinsloo stepped into the rehearsal room they had really worked through the text over and over again. “We were already on the same page,” he says. And they had by that time determined that she wasn’t going to try to replicate Elsa Joubert.
“We worked with the woman we found in the text”, as well as trying to differentiate this latest character from another ageing character Prinsloo had previously portrayed in Die Naaimasjien.
What appealed to Rademeyer about the memoir was Joubert’s directness about and dislike of ageing. “I don’t think we should be in denial,” he says. “I liked that she was so honest about her limitations.” And it was this loss the author experienced in a world that seemed to become painfully small and isolated from what she had experienced in an earlier life that they hoped to capture.
From a directing vantage, Rademeyer is all about giving the performer the best advantage to tell their story. The first challenge was the space and the 95-year-old Joubert whom Prinsloo had to inhabit.
Prinsloo is a young 70-ish, so both her movement and youthfulness had to be curtailed. “I couldn’t do quick scene changes with her running across the room,” says the director.
He was also aware that his insecurities probably hampered their first encounter.
This time round he could wallow in their personal engagement as well as marvelling at her work process. “She doesn’t take anything for granted,” he says, and realised that those who sustain their careers for this length of time achieve that longevity with hard work. “It’s all about her talent and the person she is.”
In the end, what they hoped to achieve was to heighten the state of captivity the writer felt as her life, because of many different factors, seemed to diminish – slowly but surely.
It is a reminder of the Churchill quote that intially the world was his stage. This changed to his country, then his home, his room and finally his bed.
And that was the image Rademeyer held onto when he was imagining both the physical and mental picture of Joubert’s state of mind about ageing. “We created this single room to suggest her world inside – and that of the outside world.”
Looking back at the process and the experience, Rademeyer believes that he feels much more caring about older people. When you’re young, you’re irritated by the slow speed of ageing people, he explained. But now he has a much gentler eye. “We’re all on our way there,” he says with much more understanding.
That is what he hopes this play will do for both young and old – remind them to be mindful both of what was and what will be. “It brings you up close to your own mortality,” he says. And it’s a reminder of how to treat older people.
“You should treat them as you would like to be respected when you get there,” he concludes.
Looking ahead, he is mindful of the time just past and where we find ourselves right now. 2020 wasn’t a bad year because he had both the Spertyd script and production. There was also less awareness of the damage to come due to Covid-19.
But now he is tired of the isolation, battles with the loss and loneliness of creativity and hopes to find inspiration in the future. But as a creative, he knows things will change and he is determined to wow audiences with large casts and big issues.
It’s time to grapple with the problems of our time, he believes. And he knows the audiences are there to support their work.
Here’s holding thumbs.
In the meantime, Spertyd will be playing at the Atterbury Theatre from April 20 to 25 and move to the Suidoosterfees in Cape Town from April 29.
Hopefully once the festival circuit is up and running again, Spertyd will travel far and wide and like the book that was translated as Cul-De-Sac, the play might also eventually be translated to reach a wider audience.