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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE ROPE (article first published : 2001-07-4)

Peace … all Catherine Doulle wanted was a bit of peace. So after being driven demented by the incessant crying of the child in her care, she hammered it on the table. Not surprisingly, it died. Eighteen months later, she is on Death Row. No longer known as Catherine Doulle, she has names ranging from Bitch to Murderer and child killer or simply Prisoner 554 3457.

The clock is ticking as the time approaches for her to take those last fatal 12 steps to the execution chamber. In a cell where she’s only a winner when she plays herself at draughts, she prepares for her fate and looks back at the event that prompted the death sentence.

Re-enacting the baby’s death, she is devastated by the memory of seeing her cat run over in front of her eyes. So somewhere in her there is a sensitive side. One that is distraught at the loss of a pet – or perhaps it was losing the only being in her life to ever show her love or affection?

A prostitute from an early age with a streetwise sense of her marketability in this field, she argues what chance did she ever have – right from the beginning? Her mother was a prostitute herself – a good role model. Father was a drunken brute. Her daughter’s visit delivers the last final blow when she announces that she is four months pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. Catherine sees the whole cycle starting again.

A newcomer to the stage, Michelle Driman shows great potential. With a snorting laugh and a harsh aggressive energy, she does justice to this foul-mouthed character who has an Attitude from Hell. She maintains a strong and vigorous performance throughout but she starts at too high a level and doesn’t allow herself any room to manoeuvre. Her diction is crystal clear but she could loosen up, lessen the intensity and allow herself more dynamics.

Currently appearing on the Fringe of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, The Rope is written by Dennis Rubin who has been principal of the Durban Theatre Academy for 20 years and is much involved in the training of young acting talent.

A diabetic and having had two amputations, Dennis became extremely conscious of human vulnerability. Sparked off by the Mariette Bosch case, the play has been an interesting and cathartic process for him. He is not greatly in favour with the death penalty so its scenario doesn’t sit easily with him. He researched closely with Mrs Ethel Krige who runs the archives at the Pretoria Central Prison, discovering what death penalty prisoners were allowed to wear, what visitation rights they had, how they were fed, and what recreation time was allowed. He had an opportunity to visit the prison but on the day of the appointment he had to be taken to hospital to be put on dialysis.

The Rope is a considerable work and played with conviction. All it needs is a little loosening up and the layers exposed to allow different levels of darkness. – Caroline Smart




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