Stage review: Marianna le Roux’s The Shell Singer – the caterwaul of the voiceless scream – yearning to be heard

The Shell Singer

What: Solo performance, featuring Imke du Toit
Writer/director: Marianna le Roux
Production company: Marianna Productions Instagram:

On the weekend, [August 21, 2022], I attended a performance of the heart wrenching, The Shell Singer, at the inaugural Women’s Month Festival at The Drama Factory in the Strand (about 45 minutes, by car from Cape Town). The Shell Singer, written and directed by Marianna le Roux is a fictionalised expression of le Roux’s horrific origin birth story. The character (played by du Toit) delivers a physically charged and compelling performance and laments her frustration, her ‘voiceless scream’, in searching for her twin.

Le Roux (now 68) discovered in her mid-40s that her twin brother was “murdered at birth” by their birth parents, who were Satanists. Read the interview here: When she was told about her birth story, by her adoptive parents, it was the first time that she knew she was part of a twin. She had always sensed that something or someone was missing from her life. In the Shell Singer, we hear the reiterated anguished caterwaul: “Where are you?” as the protagonist seeks to unite with her twin – if not physically, then emotionally. She is shattered and broken. She excavates through her memories – real and imagined– in the search for her ‘self’. Le roux told me that it took some time to take the story to the stage. “I always felt this urgent question that came out when I was very heart sore- ‘where are you’. So I carried the story for about 20 years before creating it as a one hander.”

The dialogue is like a prose poem, rather than a narrative. It is urgent and anguished with vivid images of salt, tears, bullets, the ripping of the birth sac. Throughout, we hear: ‘Where are you?’ After watching the show, I put it to le Roux, that in staging The Shell Singer, she is are taking ownership of her pain, acknowledging it – and bravely sharing it in a public space. She said that yes, the sharing of the story, in a theatre has been a part of the journey of facing her story and confronting her anguish. She added:  “Something else that cropped up during these heart sore moments [creating the play] – that I should never have been born. Now I know why. That is why the character says at the end: I am born- that is my curse.”

Would she say that she lives with ‘survivor’s guilt’? Her brother did not live and she did. Did she find some kind of catharsis in not only creating the work but staging it – revealing her raw self (through Imke du Toit) to the public? “Yes I think it is survivor’s guilt- the ‘ I should never been born’ feeling. And creating the work, staging it and revealing all the rawness through Imke has been a massive catharsis. I could speak it out. And I agree that to do this on a public is taking ownership of pain and the horror that caused it. Also thank you for calling me brave – it was a vast risk I took to present such a script -heightened, multi-layered text with this content- on stage. And I can also add that Imke was my perfect personal and direct voice as the Shell Singer.”

If I had not interviewed le Roux, I would have had difficulty in getting the full picture. As it stands, it is a conceptual piece of dance/physical performance, with a stream of conscious dialogue. I think that The Shell Singer has the legs to be developed into a play with some delineation of characters, but with the retention of the stirring prose poetry.

Bravo to Marianna le Roux for her courage to expose her ‘brokenness’ on stage. Bravo to The Drama Theatre and the Women’s Month Festival – presented by The Drama Factory and its owner Sue Diepeveen, in partnership with F Creations, the theatre production company headed up by Faeron Wheeler. The Shell Singer is not a comfortable piece. However, we all need to process our stuff and theatre provides us with the opportunity –to do that -as we reflect – through the voices of theatre makers. The theme of this inaugural Women’s Month Festival at the Drama Factory: Your Voice, Your Stage 2022. Marianna le Roux felt for years that she was constrained by a ‘voiceless scream’. She had no voice to express how she felt. Her scream was there but her voice was blocked. By creating and staging The Shell Singer, she has voiced the scream. I hope to see this piece go further. The production has been self-funded by le Roux so funding would be needed to develop it and perhaps someone is reading this and will come forward to take The Shell Singer further- on stage or perhaps as a  film.

Women supporting women: From left- Sue Diepeveen (owner/operator of The Drama Factory) and Marianna le Roux- her play was staged at the Drama Factory’s inaugural Women’s Month Festival, August 16-21. The theme: Your Voice, Your Stage. Photos on this page, taken on Sunday, August 21, 2002, last day of the festival. Pics © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
Friends support: Marianna le Roux (writer and director of The Shell Singer) with friends/colleaugues, Nicholas McDiarmid amd Godfrey Johnson.
Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
The Producers: Sue Diepeveen (owner/operator of The Drama Factory) and Faeron Wheeler (she heads up F Creations, a Cape Town theatre production company). The Drama Factory and F Creations co-produced the Women’s Month Festival, at The Drama Factory, August 2022. These feisty producers did not charge artists a venue hire fee and provided tech at no charge. They took a small cut of the door and made it possible for women creatives to stage their work with minimal outlay. Bravo to women supporting women. Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
Innovators: Erika Marais and Sue Diepeveen. Marais has worked extensively with Diepeveen and staged her plays at The Drama Factory. Her latest production, Die Goeie Pa, was staged during the Drama Factory’s inaugural Women’s Month Festival, August 2022. The play was produced by her company, Unlikely Productions. In addition to producing, Marais performs in the play. Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

❇ Featured image: Marianna le Roux and Imke du Toit. Le Roux’s The Shell Singer, starring du Toit, was staged at the Drama Factory’s inaugural Women’s Month Festival, August 16-21.