Interview: Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan, an original work by Kanya Viljoen, starring Carlo Daniels, a play which hinges around “loss, of mourning, of isolation, of feeling you have no one to talk to but the world around you”

Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan at KKNK

Where and when: Performances at KKNK (venue: Griesselsaal) from April 5 – 9, 2023
Tickets: R140
Bookings: Webtickets  
Writer/director: Kanya Viljoen
Performer: Carlo Daniels
Producer: Unusual Bones
Stage manager: Amber Fox-Martin

Development Support by Jakes Gerwel Foundation, Nationale Afrikaanse Teater Inisiatief (NATi), Suidoosterfees and UCT’S Centre for Dance, Theatre and Performance Studies    

Kanya Viljoen’s play, Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan, starring Fleur du Cap Theatre Award winning Carlo Daniels is on at the 2023 KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn. It is on at the KKNK from April 4-9, 2023. This original play is about a man, AB, who loses his wife (Jane) and his son (Jessie) to the ‘moon’. The narrative hinges around “loss, of mourning, of isolation, of feeling you have no one to talk to but the world around you”, says Viljoen. “The moon becomes a symbol of prayers and answers; of people lost who continue to stay with us…” The award winning Viljoen, started to write the play, a few months before the pandemic and lockdown and those themes of course became heightened during the pandemic. Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan premiered in October 2022 at the Free State Arts Festival. The producer is Unusual Bones– a collective of creatives in Cape Townknown for its challenging and immersive work – engaging audiences and igniting vital conversations. The lyrical title of this play, riffing of the moon, childhood, imagination pings in many directions and we hope that we will see this play soon in Cape Town. Get to the KKNK, and watch it in Oudtshoorn.

Physical theatre transcend draws audiences across language barriers.

Is the play in Afrikaans?

Kanya Viljoen: Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan is written in Afrikaans, but plays with the poetry of the language as it exists in smaller towns, like Bonnievale and Robertson. That said, the play is quite easy to follow and due to its physical nature can draw audiences across language barriers.

The genesis of Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan

When was the play written?

Kanya Viljoen: The play was written a couple of months prior to the pandemic and lockdown, which is really interesting as the themes are so fitting- of loss, of mourning, of isolation, of feeling you have no one to talk to but the world around you. Maybe, in some way, there was an inclination that society would enter this isolated period? Maybe loss and mourning is a state we never lose? Then the pandemic hit and the play went back into the symbolic drawer, until last year when we started to play around with it. The pandemic and the loss both Carlo and I experienced personally during those years found a place in this work, and is tangible in the performance. We are really hoping to do a Cape Town run a bit later this year.


What inspired you to write Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan or triggered the narrative?

Kanya Viljoen: The play really stemmed from the childhood stories and myths my parents, grandparents and community used to tell me about the moon. What does it mean when it’s full, when it’s empty, when there is only a sliver in the sky? How does it affect us and what does it prophesise for us? There is something so persistent and consistent about the moon and therefore there are these myths and folktales that are found in every cultural group across the globe. I did a lot of research into these myths and one kept popping up – that a child born on the full moon, will have a really difficult life. This stuck with me and I kept thinking about the notion of what in our life is fate, and what is created? And I wanted to explore how every person has the potential of tragedy written in their life.

Physical theatre – immersion in story

Physical theatre is the primary mode of expression in Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan, with minimal use of props and sets?

Kanya Viljoen: The play combines both my and Carlo’s strengths.  I really love stage-designs that are simple, but immersive and Carlo is a beautiful physical storyteller. Although we use only a chair, two lamps and a window, Carlo weaves and moves through spaces to tell a life story of the character, his wife and their son. The two lamps not only represent the various characters, but represents the loss of them, lights coming on and off, haunting the character on stage.

Synopsis- Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan

What initially started as a big love between AB and Jane, turns into a marriage of pain and misuse, over the years. Specifically when Jane falls pregnant and develops Pelvic Girdle Syndrome, a condition that could lead to paralysation in extreme circumstances, within the pregnancy. The little boy, Jessie, is born on a full moon, an occurrence that AB’s father warns him about. Throughout Jane’s frustration with her paralysed body, anger and resentment festers within the relationship, leading to a night where the couple becomes physical with one another, with AB pushing Jane and accidently causing her death. It is within this moment that Jessie starts to unravel, searching for his mother within the moon, a place she often told him stories about. For years it becomes a struggle between a man, his son and the moon. A fight which AB eventually loses.  

Director’s note:

“The play is an exploration of people on the peripheries of society – men and women who never receive the privilege of working through their trauma, as they try to survive and make ends meet. Men and women we pass on street corners, or hollow spaces. Men and women that pass trauma from one generation to the next.  In the work, the moon becomes a symbol of prayers and answers; of people lost who continue to stay with us; of larger rhythms and destinies that we can only understand in retrospect. ” – Kanya Viljoen   The piece is performed as a one hander and makes use of minimal sets and props. It uses the physical language created by the performer to tell a story of loss, mourning, the intricacies of gender-based violence and mental health.   Themes of mourning, loss and looking-for-answers-bigger-than-ourselves in objects-bigger-than-ourselves, are all faced in the play, but so too in our daily lives. These themes and realities have become even more present during the Covid-pandemic, where isolation, loss and a search for answers, were encountered globally.    The script was written and developed as part of the Jakes Gerwel Writing Residency in Somerset East in the Eastern Cape. Amy Jephta served as the script’s mentor. It was then scheduled to debut at the Jong Sterre programme at the Suidoosterfees. After two years of development, the play debuted at the Free State Arts Festival in October 2022.  

Unusual Bones

Unusual Bones is a collective of creatives in Cape Town, which seeks to explore alternative and interdisciplinary ways of creating projects through a collaborative framework. The collective, founded by Kanya Viljoen and Emilie Badenhorst, seeks to question and explore the human spirit in South Africa. The vision of Unusual Bones. is to gently command a change in the social attitudes of South Africans through gutsy, honest, and excellent stories, amplifying the ‘othered’ voices in our local community. The collective carves out safe spaces for South African women to revive their creative expression in an industry that is often ruled by vertical hierarchies and ‘set methods’.

Carlo Daniels

Carlo Daniels a Cape Town based physical theatre trained actor, singer and theatre-maker. Carlo grew up in Mitchell’s Plain where he started performing on street corners. In 2011 he started working with David Kramer and played in many of his productions. In 2016 Carlo toured the Northern Cape with Clowns Without Borders SA to perform for children. Carlo trained in physical theatre and theatre-making at Magnet Theatre and graduated in 2019. In 2018 Carlo won the Zabalaza Festival (Best Production and  Best actor) with his play Onweer. The same year he got nominated for best actor in a solo play and most promising student at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards and won Best Actor at Suidoosterfees with Klippies Van Die Grond. In the same year he performed in Okwe Bokhwe which won best ensemble at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards and played on the main stage at NAF. Carlo recently performed alongside Jennie Reznek in Magnet Theatre’s Snapped and Antigone directed by Mark Fleishaman and also Baxter Theatre’s The Life And Times Of Michael K directed by Lara Foot. Carlo has won a Kanna Award for his performance at KKNK 2022 in Ek, Anna Van Wyk directed by Marthinus Basson. Carlo worked with Athol Fugard in Fugard newest play Concerning The Life Of Baby Boy Kleintjies and also received two Fiësta nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in Ek Anna Van Wyk and Concerning The Life Of Baby Boy Kleintjies.   Carlo received two Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards at the 58th FDC – awards for shows in 2022, One of the awards was for Best New Director, for No Complaints.

Kanya Viljoen  

Kanya Viljoen graduated cum laude from the University of Cape Town with a specialisation in Theatre and Performance. Recently, Kanya completed her MA in Practice as Research as an Andrew W Mellon scholar and graduated with distinction. Kanya has received numerous awards, bursaries and nominations for her work as a writer, director and performer in both theatre and film. This includes the KykNet Fiësta for Best Upcoming Artist; SA Theatre Magazine’s Best Emerging Director Award; Best Director at New Renaissance Film Festival, Jozi Film Festival and winning the Silver Screen award for her short film at Cannes YDA Awards.    

✳ Featured image: Carlo Daniels in Kanya Viljoen’s Jessie, Die Man en Die Maan. Images supplied.