THEATRE/CAPE TOWN, Sandra Prinsloo stars in Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell, at the Baxter Theatre, Golden Arrow Studio, until October 26, 2019.

Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell: Review

Performer: Sandra Prinsloo

Director: Lara Foot

Script: Cecilia du Toit, in collaboration with Sandra Prinsloo and Lara Foot, have adapted the script from the best-selling and debut novel Kamphoer by Francois Smit and the non-fiction, The Boer Whore by Nico Moolman

Set and lighting design: Patrick Curtis

This acclaimed production premiered as the flagship production of the 2019 Free State Arts Festival in Bloemfontein and received the award for Best National Theatre Debut at the festival’s Blinker Award.

As a teenager, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Susan Nell was raped and dumped in a concentration camp – presumed dead. She didn’t die and subsequently trained as a psychiatric nurse in the Netherlands. Remarkable to consider that in those days, trauma counselling was probably non-existent. You had to “get over it” and carry on. During the First World War, while Nell was working in England, at a military hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, she spotted one of her rapists. He was one of her patients. She had to face the trauma and pain of her past.

Prinsloo is magnificent as she conjures up Susan Nell and how she must face up to the past and its ruptures. Forgiveness is another country or is it? The set by Patrick Curtis is made up of a tent/tepee which is draped with shredded lace. Lace is fragile but strong. It is not easy to rip through. The tent enclosure suggests to me an abounded camp; boma, arena. Lara Foot’s direction is a masterclass in storytelling as Prinsloo holds forth, framed by the ripped lace tent.

My Afrikaans is not the best (I am okay with Kaapse Afrikaans) but with Sandra Prinsloo and Lara Foot together, there was no way I was going to miss this production. Prinsloo’s diction is precise and although I missed bits, I was able to follow the story.

Foot’s extensive experience with physical theatre and magical realism comes through as she directs Prinsloo who emerges in and out of the tent of ruptures. It is an extraordinary performance.

I did not know about Susan Nell and once again theatre has exposed me to a story that I did not know about. It is important for us to engage with ruptures from our past – not just the immediate past.

Researching Susan Nell, I came across an illuminating post: “Remembering and forgetting: Reflections on Francois Smith’s novel Kamphoer” by Chris van der Merwe, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Francois Smith. The post (2015) was at the launch of the Research Project, “Wounds of History: Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma in South Africa” – a symposium organised by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and her colleagues in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch and Modern European Languages at the University of the Free State.…/Read it. It makes for compelling reading.

Ultimately we are shaped by the scars of our collective trauma. Amnesia will not get us anywhere. We must actively relate the stories of the past and our present and theatre – live performance – is where we are forced to engage. We cannot fast-forward or leave to make tea. We can watch and listen and learn and reflect on the resilience of this woman, Susan Nell and be inspired by her fortitude and spirit. We can tell others who have been through untold challenges and perhaps they will see the play and be encouraged to keep going – and transcend what has happened to them by working through their pain, by immersing themselves in this piece of theatre.

*Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell is on in the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from October 9 to 26, at 8pm. Ticket R100-R160. Book through Webtickets or selected Pick n Pay stores or at the Baxter box office Webtickets outlet.