Review: Jam Every Day – at the vNAF the virtual edition of The National Arts Festival, South Africa 2020/2021

The vNAF was extended until July 31, 2020 and then extended further. As of January 2021, this production is available as video-on-demand on the digital festival site. Programme is subject to change as new work is added to the site and other works are withdrawn.

What: Jam Every Day Performer: Erika Marais Script: Erika Marais and Celia Musikanth – adapted from the memoir by Emmaleen Kriel (published, January 2007, Oshun Books) Director: Celia Musikanth Platform: Virtual National Arts Festival – details correct Jan 2021- vNAF programme may change Tickets: R50 Direct booking link:  

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Emmaleen Kriel was 18 when she fell pregnant with her first child and 19 when the baby was born. “New born babies are exquisite”, croons Erika Marais evoking Emmaline for us. Babies are seductive. The hospital bill was R24. It was 1963. Emmaline poses the question as to why she had so many children: Was she “Catholic or careless”? She loved mothering. She wanted “wonderment and surprise” and a full house. She wanted to nest within a warm and large family. We hear about the travails of living in rural Constantia, with the animals and country vibe. The Constantia menagerie included cats, dogs and geese. Groot Constantia homestead was on their doorstep. There were six children in nine years.  When finances got tight, Emmaline shifted their bucolic existence to Knysa- leaving husband, Jeff behind in Cape Town. There was no electricity but they made it work.

Marais is terrific as the supermom Emmaleen – making her career in motherhood and country life.  She is fully invested in her choices and regales us with her stories of how they lived – stretching finances to get through – and the people that they encountered along the way. I enjoyed the use of props, space and Celia Musikanth’s consummate direction. I did not see this performed live and am impressed with the recorded adaption which works very well.  Marais’ timing and use of accents makes for an alluring character. She is seductive. Oh, could we all live in the countryside. It sounds idyllic – a dream for children to grow up in nature with a doting mother. The story starts in 1963, before TV in South Africa, the internet. All those children without Facebook or WhatsApp. Imagine.

The story is entertaining and the production works well as a film recording but I feel uncomfortable watching this story of this fecund white woman in 1960s South Africa, popping out babies,  in rural Constantia where so many people – classified ‘coloured’ -were dispossessed of their farms under the Group Areas Act. Constantia was zoned as a White Group Area in 1961. Emmaline’s story kicks off in 1963. Just saying. (Emmaline was born in Holland. The family came to SA when she was seven).

Emmaline is looking back with a sense of wonder at how brave and amazing she was to manage with all these children. Yes, that is correct. That was/is a lot of mouths to feed. They were a hard working couple and we hear about the battle to hold family and work together. However, this lifestyle was made possible to a great degree because of benefits in the old South Africa- heavily subsidised or free schooling for white children and other assists accrued because of racial classification. Theirs was a life of extreme white privilege.

Marais and Musikanth have created an engaging piece of theatre and brought it to a film medium during Covid-19. They have embraced the genre of storytelling, using theatre as a potent medium for expression. That is great. Jam Every Day is about resilience, the power of imagination; finding meaning in the ordinary, domestic and the hope that eventually everything will work out. That is certainly a narrative that we need now, in the pandemic. We need to keep going – with humour and fortitude. Emmaline had all that. She was feisty and idiosyncratic and relentless in her pursuit for happiness, for the wellbeing of her offspring. She was a fun mom and playful. That is conveyed through the props, colourful graphics and music soundtrack.

However, the narrative leaves a bitter after taste, for me. As a writer, Emmaline doesn’t reflect on the context and time, within which her story is set. This story is not framed within a generic and stylised country setting. If it was, then it could be a universal tale of mothering a big brood of offspring- in a space – wherever. But we hear it is 1963. We hear that the setting is Constantia. I think – ‘well, hello – a little introspection is needed here’.  The memoir is the memoir. I get that. There were probably strict guidelines about bringing the story to stage, as it was on the page.

That aside-

Jam Every Day is a wistful story of motherhood, lots of joy, much perseverance and humour. I would love to see fabulous Erika Marais in more theatre. She has tremendous stage charisma and the ability to conjure up a delicious range of accents. She performs in My Perfect Life – also on at the vNAF. Read my reviews here – once in a live theatre context and the recording at the vNAF.

Jam Every Day – Based on the memoir of Emmaleen Kriel

Adaption: Erika Marais and Celia Musikanth with special permission and assistance from the author
Director: Celia Musikanth
Performer: Erika Marais
Producer: Faeron Wheeler
Film location for the recorded version: The Drama Factory, Cape Town, South Africa
Filming: Marc and Luc Degenaar
Editing: Luc Degenaar

Image credit: Supplied.