With the circulating reports that NAF is woman-focussed this year, I thought it apt to launch my fest with watching Ingrid, a work inspired by the iconic South African poet and writer, Ingrid Jonker. It’s a pensive reimagining of Jonker’s work, aligned and combined with poetic elements from Sylvia Plath and Sheila Cussons.
The stage is stark; lighting bare. A fan is turned on, blowing on the performers as their carefully placed movement renders an upside down body, drifting, sinking… Wispy white chiffon floats on the breeze, as the waves swallow the woman. This simple, distilled image evokes Jonker’s suicide drowning in 1965.
Although, as the programme note states, it is not another retelling of Jonker’s life story. Not that it’s not important, but Ingrid uses the poetry to explore wider themes of womanhood, patriarchal power, and inner struggles for freedom against the outer reality of tempting safety.
Ingrid, is instead a testament to the reach Jonker’s poetry still has today. Given that she is a constant source of inspiration to artists (emerging and established), it’s a brave move to add one’s voice to the ever-growing crowd. Yet the four women who present Ingrid confidently and conscientiously contribute to understanding the poet’s art, and in the process, lay the foundations for making their own artistic mark.
Particularly powerful was the imagery used in invoking the systematic indoctrination of learning womanhood, femininity, and the performance of these. The most striking aspect being – it’s the Mother (Helena) who teaches the rituals to the younger girls. They put on earrings; they pretty themselves. They dab at their foreheads; so easily faint and vulnerable. Hands on hips. Racing pulses. Moving long hair to expose the nape. Femininity and vulnerability and seduction are twisted and churned into the dysfunctional expressions of self.
Helena is conservative, she has particular ideas about how her daughter Louisa must be raised. She certainly doesn’t like the influence of Louisa’s friend Liesbet. In the interactions between these three, we’re exposed to the complexities of individuality fighting against a ‘certain’ world. Louisa is tempted by freedom; she sees her way out in her relationship with Liesbet, which shifts as the young women grow up, becomes daring, sensual, but teeters on recreating the stifling power play between Helena and Louisa. She desires escape but the learned behaviour of her upbringing causes a painful paradox within her.
“Ek wil nie meer nie” (I don’t want to anymore) is repeated, becomes a mantra; a new ritual begins. A stirring chorus of poetic declarations of reclamation of the self is delivered as the bodies on stage become freer in movement, they release themselves; no longer restrained by the rules of socially acceptable behaviour.
One aspect requiring attention is the running around as a way to enter and exit ‘scenes’. Perhaps it was thought an energising way to break the calmly paced rhythm. But besides being an easy solution to entrances/exits, it becomes predictable rather than enriching the work. This challenge only arises from the choice not to have wings/stage flats, which talks to the thematic need for a bare, open, honest, vulnerable stage setting. And this does work well.
Using evocative imagery and physicalisation to balance the richly poetic text, these rising theatre makers, Ester van der Walt (director) and performers Maude Sandham, Megan van Wyk and Nina Erasmus, play with and test the theatrical waters, in the same vein that Jonker and the Sestigers did in conservative 60s South Africa. The audience isn’t delivered a neat narrative, where at the end we can say, “that’s hectic but it’s done now, so, ok”. No.
We’re roused and a little uncomfortable, and throughout must question why these women are behaving the way they do. And we must question how we feel about the way they behave… that’s the important part.
– Sarah Roberson
Ingrid is next on at Masonic Front 01 July at 22.00. For more info & bookings click here.