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EK ANNA VAN WYK - REVIEW (article first published : 1999-08-20)

Forming part of the Playhouse Company’s South African Women’s Festival 1999 sponsored by Transnet from August 5 to 8, the State Theatre’s production of Pieter Fourie’s Afrikaans play Ek Anna van Wyk directed by Marthinus Basson took Durban’s theatre followers by storm. This was an achievement, for a start, because the arts world in this city has a reputation – whether deservedly or not - for being laid-back and apathetic.

Pieter Fourie is the festival director of the Klein-Karoo Kunstefees and one of the originators of the Oudtshoorn festival concept. Durban last saw one of his plays about 10 years ago when Die Koggelaarwas performed in the Loft.

Ek Anna van Wyk was written in 1983 and, at the time, it must have been major ground-breaking stuff, even for the ever-challenging Afrikaans theatre genre. The play is constructed in such a way that members of the audience become part of the action as observers or assessors in a kind of courtroom. A judgmental figure (Dawid Minaar), mainly unseen as he sits at the back of the auditorium like an adjudicator, constantly confronts Anna and the rest of the cast to produce explanations for their actions and offer reasons for their feelings.

Before you read any further, let me confess that I understand very little Afrikaans and would only be able to make myself understood in conversation with the constant help of a dictionary! So, I was somewhat daunted by the language to assess a production that had already garnered an impressive reputation. However, a kind friend and colleague took time and trouble to write me a very comprehensive synopsis so that I wouldn’t be totally lost.

“Sit in the front,” she said, not explaining why and I spent a several nervous moments wondering whether I would be drawn into some kind of audience participation where my woeful lack of Afrikaans would immediately become apparent. But the reason for her advice was so that I could feel right in the middle of the action and to appreciate in full the power of Antoinette Kellerman’s performance. While I may not have appreciated the information conveyed through the speech, my drama and voice production training has well equipped me to know `how it’s done’, as it were. As Anna van Wyk, Antoinette put in a truly stupendous performance of a highly complex character who suffers from epilepsy and eventually succumbs to delusion.

She’s a very tough act to follow but the supporting cast members are all excellent. Always there throughout the play, shadowing Anna and often casting doubt on what is real and what is imagined, is Jean Marais dressed as Anna on the day she married Pierre Terre’blanche in all her bridal finery. As Anna’s long-suffering husband, Alyzzander Fourie gives a controlled and sympathetic performance, particularly during the scene when he has to clean her up after a drunken binge in order to meet his father who has arrived unexpectedly.

Ben Kruger’s solidity and impressive stature gives him a physical advantage as Senior (Anna’s inflexible father-in-law) as well as the bible-punching dominee and he puts in a fine, strong performance. Brian Webber plays Anna’s son (the baby she dropped at the christening font in the middle of an epileptic fit) as well as a female doctor and Pierre’s mincing mistress with whom Anna has the most exciting and well-choreographed stage fight I have ever seen!

Gabriel Campher spends most of the first half of the play squatting next to a bowl of milky fluid washing his hands as if in ritual but later he becomes Anna’s house helper, a strong and determined woman who is not afraid of standing up to Senior.

If you’re sitting in front of him, you will only see Dawid Minaar at the end of the play but his well-modulated voice – whether imperious, coaxing, argumentative or understanding – form the king-pin of this excellent production. As director of the play within a play, Nicola Hanekom also spends most of the play off the stage, sitting on the auditorium stairs – occasionally taking on the role of a character as required by “The Voice”.

All credit to Marthinus Basson for another winner. If you ever get the chance of seeing this production, don’t miss it!


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