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Friday, November 20, 2020


(Mpilo Nzimande & Cara Roberts. Pic by Nick Pitman)

“Flame in the Snow marks a gentle, sensitive and poignant return to theatre”. (Review by Ismail Mahomed)

How does one return to theatre after a national lockdown that has extended over seven months? As audiences we can be face-masked, have our hands sanitised and be seated socially distanced from each other? But what about the actors on stage?

Bryan Hiles’s production of Flame in the Snow, which opened last night at the Altitude Theatre in Durban is more than just a sensitive and poignant portrayal of the love letters between two South African literary giants, Andre P Brink and Ingrid Jonker. The production is testimony to how we will experience theatre during this extraordinary period in our lives. It is among the very first live theatre productions to have opened in Durban after the lockdown. It also kept its performers socially distanced through its one hour run.

(Left: Mpilo Nzimande. 
Pic by Jacobus van Heerden)

Brink and Jonker, played by Mpilo Nzimande and Cara Roberts respectively, are “socially distanced” by clever lighting and a split stage with each of them in their own homes. Brink at the desk in his study and Jonker in a comfy chair in her lounge. What follows is a reading by them of the passionate and intimate love letters that as fate had it would not end as a happy ever after story. Jonker walked into the sea three months after Brink’s last letter to her.

Jonker’s tragic suicide in Three Anchors Bay marks the end of their long distance relationship which was punctuated with its highs of togetherness, the long agonizing periods apart and the fears of loneliness. Cara Roberts reads Ingrid Jonker’s letters with such passion that every single word in the literary giant’s letters unfolds itself and springs to life showing Ingrid Jonker’s depth of pain, her longing, her exhaustion, her ability to love and her craving for love.

(Right: Cara Roberts. 
Pic by Jacobus van Heerden )

From the moment that Mpilo Nzimande reads Brinks’s first letter to Jonker and to how he punctuates it with the author’s name …. ANDRE, it literally sounds as if Brink wanted his name to be remembered in all capital letters. It does! Not only to Jonker who devoted her love to him but also to everyone who has turned the pages of his books. Andre P Brink’s love letters to Jonker are as much a literary marvel as his authored works and it makes absolute sense why Flame in the Snow was published.

By any standards, Flame in the Snow, would be an excellent radio play. On the constrained and intimate stage at the Altitude Theatre there is very little movement. It is a kind of play that one could listen to with one’s eyes closed and relish every word scripted by Brink and Jonker but it is the sheer passion and dignity which Nzimande and Roberts invest in the readings that make you want to keep your eyes open. It is the accompanying music and the gentle lighting that transports you into the homes of Brink and Jonker that reminds you that you are in a theatre.

It is the breathing of the audience around you that makes you realise that you are once again in that sacred place that we call theatre. This time round it’s not the actors who are wearing the masks. It’s us the audience! Covid-19 has turned our lives around in unprecedented ways. It’s time to gradually take ownership of our lives again. Going back into our theatres and supporting our artists who have been deprived of their livelihoods for the last seven months is a powerful way of celebrating that we have survived the lockdown; and that masked and sanitised we will continue to fight the deadly virus but that we won’t let life come to a standstill. What we must never let go off is our power to imagine. This is what Flame in the Snow does. It gives us the power to imagine two lives, two loves and millions of memorable words in between.

Flame in the Snow has two more performances tonight and tomorrow (November 20 and 21) at 19h30 at OnStage@Altitude, 25 Silver Avenue, Stamfordhill. Parking with guards is available directly adjacent to the venue. Seating is unreserved and allocated on arrival. Doors open at 18h00 for showtime at 19h30. A cash bar is available and patrons are welcome to bring their own picnic baskets/snacks.

Tickets R120 booked through Quicket:

Strict Health Protocols apply. All ticket holders will receive a Covid-19 questionnaire for completion on arrival. - Ismail Mahomed