Let it wash over you

It’s easy to see why What the Water Gave Me won a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award at this year’s NAF. Cherae Halley is entrancing. Rehane Abrahams writes a moving story, complex, but carefully constructed. Jade Bowers directs, and weaves the seemingly disjointed stories into a majestic tale. The three artists’ combined light touches and subtlety translate heavy issues into sensitively understated moments.

I’m not sure where to begin. Wrapped up in the one hour production is an expanse across time, religion, myth, meaningful existence… the history of the Cape, slavery, and South Africa’s direly troubled present. Every line spoken contains an important consideration of life, of death.

OK. From the beginning then. We’re greeted with chai tea at the door, warm water to wash our hands, burning incense, and the storyteller’s kind nod hello. Halley mesmerises from that start.

An allegorical story unfolds, woven in and between the parallel stories of women and girls seeking answers and trying to understand the trying world they live in.

One woman is trapped, suffocated by the walls closing in. She sees six women in Hijab, they transform, become crows. She’s lost her compass. She travels through time and witnesses the slave women at the harbour, “not chained, but too afraid to run away”. She’s expected at mosque. She isn’t enslaved as they were, but slavery reincarnates itself across time.

Taking us back in time with her renditions of TLC, Snoop Dogg, and Junior, another young woman philosophises over the future of the world. She ponders the ‘caramelisation’ of the planet – a solution to racism..? She dissects how generations ago, white people arrived in Africa with technology (telescopes) to ‘free’ people with knowledge, and ‘save’ them with religion.

Most haunting is the little girl’s recollection of her experiences. “As long as you don’t tell.” Child pornography is given (if possible) an even more sickening evocation. “It’s a game like in the magazines”. The media, and popular culture, plays its unconscionable role in the sexualisation of children. Anyone watched Toddlers & Tiaras?

What the Water Gave Me is powerful and masterful. The text is at once poetic, edgy, provocative, and transgressive. The production is slick, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Simply, it’s excellent. Go see it. – Sarah Roberson

Last show: tomorrow 28/09 @ 5.30pm @ City Hall 2. Click here for production info.

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