Interview: Before the Second Advent, grappling with sickness and faith stems from a real place- new South African play by Ydalie Turk – a drama in four acts

Before the Second Advent– a drama in four acts by Ydalie Turk  

Performances – two venues- debut season of this play – premiering at

~ The Drama Factory- March 29, 30, 2023-  

~ Theatre Arts

April 3, 4, 5, 2023
Performance times: Monday April 3 at 6.45pm, Wednesday April 5 at 8.30pm and Thursday April 6 at 8.30pm  

Booking link Theatre Arts:

Duration: 60-minutes
Language: English, with some Afrikaans

Starring: Margot Wood and Ydalie Turk
Direction and design: Nell van der Merwe
Music: Diffie Bosman
Writer: Ydalie Turk
Presented by: Holding Thumbs Productions and The Drama Factory
Producer: Casey Diepeveen

For more see:

Familial obligation is not easy to navigate. In her new play, Before the Second Advent, Cape Town theatre maker, Ydalie Turk tackles “how love/care manifests even if a relationship is fraught”.  In the four-act drama, she turns her gaze on a granddaughter and grandmother and their interactions over one night. It is a fictional play, inspired by aspects of Turk’s childhood but is not biographical. Emotionally, it does strike deeply into nodes of reality. As Turk muses, “grappling with sickness and faith stems from a real place”. Turk reflects that Before the Second Advent, is both an end-of-life story and coming-of-age story. “Ouma is grappling with her imminent demise and the fear surrounding that, while Heila is facing the death of a relationship and her past but potentially the birth of who she could be outside of the relationship with her grandmother.” Intrigued? I am excited to see a new South African play which places two generations together, on stage, facing death, life, endings and beginnings. Read on for more:

Fictional hybrid

The play was inspired by being raised by your grandmother and is set in an English/Afrikaans Christian community. Is it a fictional place in the play – or is it not named?

Ydalie Turk: I grew up between East London and Johannesburg but spent a lot of time all over the country, especially in the Free State and Transkei. The play is set in a fictional hybrid of these places. We never explicitly state where we are but the sense that it’s a very insular religious community is quite apparent. For a good portion of my childhood I was raised by grandmother and the impetus for the story is based on some of our dynamics. It is very important to me to state that a lot of poetic license was taken to heighten the stakes/drama of the piece, but grappling with sickness and faith stems from a real place. 

Genesis of The Second Advent

How did the production – come about-  from idea/memories of family to fully fledged four act play- working with Casey Diepeveen as producer, Margot Wood as co-performer, Nell van der Merwe as director and Diffie Bosman (music). It sounds like there was extensive collaboration and workshopping as you took the play from page to stage – working with Nell? Fleshing it out? Process?

Ydalie Turk: The production came about out of a desire to be involved in the theatre-making process as a whole. The story was always in the back of my mind and after having performed in a few plays last year, I was definitely itching to devise something myself. Then, having Casey as a producing partner and meeting Nell (whose vision was so creative and full), and having Margot jump on board really put all the pieces in motion. The process has been extraordinarily collaborative and would never have grown to what we have now were it not for Nell at the Helm of the whole experience. It’s been a beautiful workshopping experience, and I’m so grateful to have them all as partners in the endeavour. 

Four act play- mirroring the biblical stages of the apocalypse

It is a four act play: Conquest, War, Famine and Death. Can you talk about that – the framing around these rather dark trigger points – Conquest, War, Famine and Death?

Ydalie Turk: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death are the biblical stages of the apocalypse. After discovering this, we felt that these stages matched the trajectory of Ouma and Heila’s evening together quite perfectly. Utilising these stages also ended up being the ideal structure to write something that felt nicely packaged. In a sense, we wanted each scene to be able to exist on their own, with an individual arc. As such, the play doesn’t really follow a typical structure and it starts with what could be interpreted as the climactic confrontation occurring in scene 2 before things breathe a little and start to wind down. Breaking down the scenes this way also fostered quite a stylized piece, at first unintentionally, that ultimately gave us a lot of room to play. 

Familial obligation- the manifestation of love/care

In the play, Heila visits her grandmother who is dying– and they are estranged. It sounds like a lot of the narrative hinges around youth and aging and looking back; the protagonists reaching some kind of understanding? One often talks about coming-of-age stories and this sounds like it is an end-of-life story? I dealt with that recently. It is not easy to gather around a death bed – and wait for last breaths. Your insights?

Ydalie Turk: You’re absolutely right that the play is an end-of-life story and the way you articulated this in the question feels really apt. It is a very difficult thing, I’m sorry to hear it is something you’ve dealt with recently. In the context of this story, we’re touching on these moments in relation to familial obligation and how love/care manifests even if a relationship is fraught. Ouma is grappling with her imminent demise and the fear surrounding that, while Heila is facing the death of a relationship and her past but potentially the birth of who she could be outside of the relationship with her grandmother.

Naming the play

Why is it called Before the Second Advent? You say that there are biblical references which are “ripe with metaphors that coincide with a narrative that explores themes of redemption, sins, and attempts at mending past afflictions.” Advent as I understand it: “The first season of the Church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.” So why it titled – Before the Second Advent? Is it before the finality of death? And the young woman and grandmother – looking for redemption, sins, mending, healing?

Ydalie Turk: The title can hopefully take on multiple meanings. Initially, it was born from the definition of advent being “the arrival of a notable person or thing.” Ouma, in her last days, becomes convinced that the second coming is imminent. She’s gripped by hallucinations that tell her to be prepared because: “He will be here soon.” So the idea was that, while the evening unfolds, everything is taking place before His arrival. That being said, it also touches on the ideas you mentioned of everything that takes place before Ouma’s finality – redemption, potential reconciliation etc. 

Designing the play

You say that“the set is designed to make the audience feel as though they are peering through yellow stained curtains, curiously observing a tension filled evening, emphasising notions of the private and the public.” So there is a sense of voyeurism as we the audience peer through? Insights?

Ydalie Turk: Yes, absolutely. Nell crafted a beautifully delicate set full of textures and interesting tech devices, including an old television set. The idea is to offer a glimpse into a very private moment between these two characters, and (depending on where you are seated in the audience), it gives the impression of peeking through windows or maybe the crack of a door. The set, I believe, is also meant to mimic Ouma’s mental state during the play. It’s relatively sparse to give the impression of what her home might look like. It’s fragmented, much like her memories, which we touch on in the story. 

Sound design

Can you tell us about the sound design and how that is used in the play?  It is said that hearing is the last sense to go. Even people who are in comas, at end-of-life, are said to be able to hear and responds to voices if they do not ‘understand’ what is being said? Insights?

Ydalie Turk: The music is an original score by Diffie Bosman. His compositions are haunting but also full of urgency and have been the cherry-on-top of each scene. Some of the music is original but he also included elements from a church hymn that Ouma uses to comfort herself throughout the play. We do touch on the idea of music being a source of comfort for Ouma, as she continually asks Heila “sing vir my, my kind.”  He also included the sounds associated with some of the imagery of the second coming, for instance of horses galloping as Ouma dreams of the horseman of the apocalypse visiting her. His music feels as though it’s both Ouma’s consolation and also the hurried ticking of her time running out. I love what you said about people in comas being able to hear sounds etc. It wasn’t something I directly thought about but the church hymns are definitely something Ouma clings to, especially in relation to her memories of a time when things were happier and simpler. 

Setting- universal – bearing witness to fraught dynamics

It is set in South Africa, within a specific milieu – but it sounds like it has universal resonance – we can all relate – to facing our families – stories, pasts etc?

Ydalie Turk: While the play is very South African, especially touching on a very specific brand of Afrikaans NG-Kerk Christianity, I do think that most people can relate to some of the challenges it addresses. In other words, the circumstances/ environment of this play are very particular but the relationship dynamics can play-out in almost any household. On the one hand, Heila is desperate to find herself outside of the circumstances she was raised in -in some ways it’s Heila’s coming-of-age story. Ouma, on the other hand, is trying to do what she truly believes is the right thing for Heila. The conflict of these positions feels universal to almost any family dynamic. Also, while the characters are relentless in their convictions and pursuits and their dynamic is quite ruthless, I do hope the story offers them both the characters some grace. This is also something I think is quite universal – bearing witness to fraught dynamics hopefully facilitates some understanding even if the circumstances are unfamiliar. 

I would also like to touch on the play being in both English and Afrikaans because this feels inherently South African to me. I think in most households, certainly in mine, we seamlessly transition from one language to another, whether its slang, phrases, or full sentences. I love how the sounds that this amalgamation of dialects/languages plays into the realism of a South African play and adds richness to the text -sometimes an Afrikaans phrase just sums up a feeling a little better or vice versa.

Waiting: Ydalie Turk performs as Heila, in Before The Second Advent, a drama in four acts which she wrote and workshopped with the team and in which she stars, opposite, Margot Wood. This new South African play is produced by Holding Thumbs Productions (on Instagram).
Light and dark. Margot Wood as Ouma, in Before The Second Advent– a new South African play by Ydalie Turk. The premiere season – March-April in Cape Town. Producer: Holding Thumbs Productions.

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