Crucifying nostalgia: Rhodes awarded for Afrikaans play

(This is the third article I ever wrote. Behind the scenes an anonymous Grahamstown resident had written to the paper to say that he hated the play and, for some inexplicable reason, the editor agreed so this article was never published.)

Die Bannelinge (“The Exiles”) has won the Sanlam Prize for Afrikaans Theatre (Spat). Rhodes University is the first English institution to enter an Afrikaans production into the Spat competition, blowing the idea that only Afrikaans speakers can participate right out of the water.

When Sanlam extended an invitation to enter the competition, Heike Gehring, a lecturer at the Rhodes Drama department, jumped at the chance to get involved. Rhodes entered three plays, of which Die Bannelinge was chosen to be in the top four and premiered at this year’s Absa Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees from 6 – 10 April.

The play is written by Bauke Snyman and won all the major prizes at the KKNK in Oudtshoorn earlier this month in a tussle with the winners of the previous five years, the universities of Stellenbosch (2004 and 2006) and the Free State (2005, 2007 and 2008).

Snyman is a Speech and Drama teacher at DSG/ St Andrew’s College and wanted to write a play about the complexities of land ownership in South Africa. Using the Greek Theban Plays, Oedipus, Oedipus Rex and Antigone as a springboard, this black comedy probes into how some families “step into the same traps” over and over again. This disarming examination of race, heritage and ego reminds us that “we are all a generation of violators” in South Africa, says Snyman.

“This play crucifies nostalgia,” he emphasises. However, “We can’t look retrospectively at a personal process because we don’t know the outcome. It takes a lot for people to change.” This concept is echoed by the lack of a so-called happy ending for the play’s rather gruesome conclusion. Snyman rejects the idea of romanticising people’s experiences just to ‘make it all better’ which is what he feels is a way of sugar-coating the reality of being South African. “We don’t know how the story will end,” he says.

Individual prizes of R20 000 apiece were awarded to the Best Playwright and Best Director respectively and Shaun Acker, who played “Mr O”, scooped up the golden award for Best Actor. The judging panel – legendary actors and directors Ilse van Hemert, Elize Cawood, Margot Luyt, Hennie van Greunen and Mike van Graan – credited Rhodes with a merit award for the design of their set.

Because the cast are mostly English speakers, Gehring had to paint a picture about who Afrikaners are, even giving a brief history lesson to explain the intricacies of Afrikaans culture, including the almost inherent obsession with status and land. It was also a bit of a juggling act between casting people in terms of acting ability and the ability to speak Afrikaans. She says she was convinced they wouldn’t win and was really proud and surprised by the cast who are “very professional in their conduct”. She says they all enjoyed attending the KKNK and were very impressed with the technical support and the “immaculate venue”.

The prize money of R100 000 was provided on condition that the drama be performed at two more festivals in the course of the year. After three performances last week at Rhodes Theatre, Die Bannelinge will be staged at the Aardklop Festival in Potchefstroom as well as Die Volksbladfees in the Free State.

As an additional bonus the scripts of the winning dramas have also been published. Lewensreg and Die Begrafnis, the winning scripts of 2007 and 2008, were printed throughout the course of last year. Copies can be purchased at Joho Printers.

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