Preview: Tales from the Garden
This new play by Ameera Conrad, is making its Cape Town debut at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre from May 7-18, at 7:30pm, with a matinee on Saturday, May 18 at 2.30pm. Direction and design is by Kathleen Stephens.
Proceeds from this season will go towards funding for its staging at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I was supposed to see the play tonight (May 9) but the performance was cancelled. As I am unable to attend until the end of the run, I am putting this out now – with insights from Ameera Conrad. My intention was to review the play and draw on her reflections in the review.
Ameera Conrad and Kathleen Stephens are innovative young voices in theatre. They are passionate cultural activists and are invested in devising work which is socially relevant and which generate conversations – encouraging audiences to engage with uncomfortable issues.
Conrad co-curated The Fall, which made its international debut at the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe (2017). She was also a co-writer and performer in The Fall. Her awards include the Scotsman Fringe First Award for Writing (2017), The Stage’s Ensemble Award for Acting (2017), the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport award for best contribution to drama (2018), and the first Fleur du Cap Encore Award (2017). Amazing! She is only 25, by the way. Stephens is 27 and also built up a reputation of devising challenging new texts and directing existing texts with verve. In 2015, she co-directed Athol Fugard’s People are Living There at the National Arts Festival. Last year , she performed at Maynardville as Lucentio in the all-female production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and she performed in the return season of Shakespeare in Love at the Fugard Theatre. She recently directed the dark comedy Marsha: The Beginning of the End, at the Alexander Bar and Woordfees. She is making her Baxter Theatre Centre directorial debut with Tales from the Garden.
Tales from the Garden “follows the story of an unnamed young woman who asks the audience to do nothing more than listen to her tell her story.” It is not only what happened to her – assault in a foreign country by someone that she trusted -but the fact that it is hard to explain it to her family and expose herself to them. For Conrad, the genesis of the play goes back to 2016, after a young woman, Franziska Blöchliger was raped and murdered in Tokai forest: “That really pushed me to write about this, and then the reports about the rapes at Rhodes Memorial and in Azania House just solidified to me that we needed desperately to speak about how unsafe women and queer bodies are in this world.”
TheCapeRobyn: The play tracks a woman’s story as she attempts to “explain her trauma, fear, joy, and desire for healing after being assaulted in a foreign country by someone that she trusted.” Can you elaborate?
Ameera Conrad: Yes, the trauma of the assault is only magnified by the fact that she doesn’t feel that she has an outlet to effectively process the trauma. It’s something that happens in a lot of communities in South Africa, and globally, where victim blaming and guilt makes victims of assault feel as if they can’t talk about what has happened to them. The show is really about that, dealing with trauma and dealing with it alone.
TheCapeRobyn: The rape and murder of Franziska Blöchliger in Tokai forest had a profound impact on you and that spurred you to write this play?
Ameera Conrad: As a woman in South Africa I constantly feel that I am unsafe at every moment in time. 2016 was a particularly difficult year in that a lot of young women (particularly women of colour) who were students at UCT in 2015 had felt even more unsafe. Reports on social media were coming in about women being raped or murdered every other day; it was a living nightmare. I can’t speak for all women, of course, but personally I felt very on edge – as if I could be the next media headline for no reason other than I didn’t lock my car door fast enough, or I decided to walk to the train station, or any other random assortment of coincidences. As a writer the only thing I knew how to do was to write a play about it, and as an activist the only thing I knew how to do was to try to uplift these stories. That’s what Tales was cultivated from.
TheCapeRobyn: Is this your first play since The Fall?
Ameera Conrad: In Cape Town, yes. I spent most of last year touring The Fall internationally and then I went to London to direct at Guildhall School of Music and Drama before returning to Cape Town.
TheCapeRobyn: Kathleen is director and designer. Can you give a sense of design and setting? The title is Tales from the Garden. Is that a reference to the Tokai murder/rape? Are you setting out a forest/garden landscape?
Ameera Conrad: The play is aesthetically leaning into a surreal garden space. It’s more about gardening and the characters personal experiences than it is about the Tokai murder – that was just one of the many examples of the kinds of stories that pushed me to writing the piece.
TheCapeRobyn: Anything else to add?
Ameera Conrad: This play is part of a fundraising scheme to help get it and my other production, Reparation, to Edinburgh this August. All of the profits will go directly to the tour.
Tales from the Garden runs at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre from May 7 to 18 , 2019. Booking is through Webtickets on 086 111 0005, online at www.webtickets.co.za or from Pick n Pay stores. — with Ameera Conrad and Baxter Theatre.