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Thursday, September 24, 2015


(Nieke Lombard & Lesoko Seabe. Pic by Polle Willemsen)

(Review from the Hilton Arts Festival from Raymond Perrier)

Drama helps us extend a particular experience to the general and thus draw parallels from the general back to our own particular experience.

The experience of being a mother or being mothered is both the most general and the most particular.  Each one of us has had a mother and many will be mothers. But in some particular cases, the person we feel closest to as mother may not the woman in whose womb we were carried. And in others, circumstances might mean that the owner of the womb is not able to be as close to her child as a mother should be. Phillip Rademeyer’s Siembamba explores a particular example of this and thus poses more general questions about South Africa.

Nieke Lombard plays the Afrikaans girl who grows up closer to her black nanny than she does to her own mother; Lesoko Seabe, the African domestic worker who has no choice but to be closer to the white girl she is bringing up than she does to her own children. This particular racially-coded story has, of course, been played out in so many South African families and causes us again to consider how we claim and deny identity.

Part of the magic of the play is that the two characters share a lot of their feelings in heavily-accented English which is clearly not the first language (dare I say, ‘mother tongue’) of either character. The English language distances them from their true selves while ironically being the medium that allows us as the audience to connect with them (especially if, like me, you could only enjoy the poetry but not the full meaning of the parts in Afrikaans and vernacular).

The two actresses gave heartfelt performances, full of the tensions of love and resentment that had grown up between the two characters.  I am afraid I was a bit less convinced when the nanny also became the Earth Mother and so tried to take the experience to the cosmological level.

It is sad and shocking to see how one girl’s relationship with her mother and another mother’s relationship with her children have been turned upside down by the pragmatism of nannying. At one level, both sides benefit; at another both are profoundly wounded by it. It was even more shocking to step out of the Memorial Hall at Hilton College and notice quite how many white families were out for the afternoon with their black nannies pushing the prams.  I wonder how many of them really thought through the social implications of this economic arrangement. – Raymond Perrier