Interview: Marianna le Roux’s play, The Shell Singer, birthed out of personal loss and pain- staged by Marianna Productions, a platform for sharing stories by women about their experiences

Marianna le Roux’s play, The Shell Singer, starring Imke du Toit, premiered at Theatre Arts, Cape Town, in 2021, for a short season. A return season, scheduled for May, 2022, was postponed and now The Shell Singer will be part of the inaugural Women’s Month Festival, at The Drama Factory, from August 16-21, 2022.  The theme of the festival: Your Voice, Your Stage. The Shell Singer is very much about the playwright, le Roux, putting out her voice on stage, in a play which is intensely autobiographical and which invokes and images the pain and loss which came out of finding out about her origin birth story. Through The Shell Singer, le Roux has worked through her “broken-ness”. Roux heads up the theatre production company, Marianna Productions, which is a platform for sharing stories by women about their experiences.

Theatre of pain and loss

The Shell Singer, was ignited by the horrific discovery of your birth story? Marianna le Roux: “When I was 40-ish, I learned from my adoptive parents that I lost my twin brother at the moment of our birth. He was murdered by my birth parents. Through my entire life I had a terrible need to belong and bond and connect with him but that need remained a black hole in my soul and psyche. I always carried the cry- ‘where are you’. That was the spark for the play.” The details are sketchy as your adoptive parents wanted to protect you but from what you can gather, your birth parents, were Satanists? “My birth parents were Satanists. It is hard for outsiders to believe it or wrap their minds around.” It brings to mind, the 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby, based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, but what happened is not a fiction.  “Exactly. I hold nothing against my birth parents. They were victims but I SO would love to have been with my brother.” Did they go to jail? “I was 10 days old when adopted. I don’t know if they were caught even… I had so many dreams about my little twin- I am sure they must be memories. I used them in my play. My adopted parents tried to protect me but not knowing, made me psychotic and they had to come out with the truth.”

Horror of the psychotic

Are the twins depicted in The Shell Singer? Marianna le Roux: “In the play, this flesh and blood woman is shattered by the death/murder of her twin, at the moment of his birth, while she was travelling behind him in the birth canal. This catastrophe caused her to be born with a broken heart and with open and raw nerves, as she suffered daily, an unanswered cry: Where are you!  Her deepest need is to belong, bond and connect with her twin- that has been broken when the umbilical cord was cut… This is one woman theatre and the text is written as multi-layered poetic prose.  However, the character is a full blooded woman and that makes it so hard to bring her across as the natural tendency to ‘sing’ the dialogue must be curbed. The poetic quality of the text is in stark opposition with the reality of the content that deals with horror of the psychotic.”

Imaging personal on stage

The Shell Singer is your second autobiographical play. Marianna le Roux: “My first one woman theatre piece, The Reed Player, is also autobiographical. It portrays a completely different event from my life.” Is The Shell Singer, a companion piece to The Reed Player? “No, The Reed Player stands on its own. It depicts the fury of a raped woman who wants to calm the stormy seas by playing her reed flute into the waves. She is mute and her flute is her voice.”

Bringing artistic dark beauty to the audience

Is it your intention, through your plays, to bring about healing for the audience? Marianna le Roux:  “I personally do not think theatre is for healing- I think is to confront difficult experiences and create beauty from darkness. By bringing broken-ness to audiences via my woman theatre pieces I simply reflect parts of the world as it is. My aim is not to comfort them [the audience], but to make them feel and dare to journey their own pain. For me, it is about bringing artistic dark beauty to the audience. For me, personally, that is healing.”

The Shell Singer: Imke du Toit in the one woman play by Marianna le Roux. Supplied.

✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.

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