KROTOA – EVA VAN DE KAAP. Written by Sylvia Vollenhoven. Directed by Basil Appolis. With Bianca Flanders, Kees Scholten and musicians Frazer Barry and Jef Hofmeister. Photographs: Jochem Jurgens. Artscape.

MEGAN FURNISS reviews

Last night’s completely full house at Artscape’s Arena is testimony to there being a need and desire for this type of work, these stories, these re-imaginings of history, this articulation of identity. Krotoa is a name surrounded by a whirlwind of emotion. Rage, discomfort, blame, pride, bitterness and muscle memory are all evoked in the telling of Krotoa’s story, and here, with these characters, on this stage, with this music and these words the story is unfolded and then refolded along different lines, but ultimately with the same bleak ending.

 KROTOA – EVA VAN DE KAAP

The stage is a complication of ideas and realities. A huge wooden table dominates. It is a Jan van Riebeek table. Actors’ dressing room mirrors divide. The musicians are screened off, and to the side. A craft table with coffee and fruit throws us into the present, the world of movie, of make-believe. Here, two actors are starring in a film about Krotoa (this did happen, with all sorts of controversy because the story was told in a way that glorified old Jan). Thjis, the actor, struggles to find his character Jan van Riebeek, while Sam, the actress, has an easier time evoking the spirit of Krotoa.

Bianca Flanders has the task of bringing a name, Krotoa, to life and she is completely extraordinary. Krotoa explodes, slides, stands, moves, wobbles, flies. Language spills from her in English, Afrikaans, Dutch and Khoekhoe and her body throws this struggle from itself. I could have just watched her, listened to her, be moved by the slightest tilt of her head.

Krotoa review: Much squeezed into the story

Unfortunately there is so much that is being squeezed into the story; a reflection on how Krotoa’s position played out at the fort and as the vital slave translator for the VOC, how the memory of her and the terrible abuses she suffered must find voice, what our contemporary attitude to her and the Dutch are/should be, and how finally secret stories of those that had no space in our cut and dried versions of history must surface and agitate. All this is huge stuff and the slightest unravelling of it begins here, on stage.

There are moments of incredible beauty and power in this piece, but mostly it is a jumble of too many ideas, trying to find their theatrical shape and expression.

 KROTOA – EVA VAN DE KAAP

Actors playing characters is a device used to distance an audience from the original story, in order to gain a different perspective, an insight, looking back. Here it is confusing. As confusing as the male actor who struggles with his character much more than it feels the Dutch struggle with the scars of South Africa’s colonial history.

The audience is asked to jump from contemporary and chatty dialogue (stilted because of language) to the high poetry of internal musings, to the guttural and beautiful Khoekhoe, to the satire of minstrels giving chorus/commentary.  Lots and lots of styles and ideas, (and too many unnecessary costume changes) make watching this piece hard work.

I don’t know who the target market of this piece is. Will it speak differently to a Dutch audience? To school children? To the white liberal who needs schooling? To a South African coloured audience who will find resonance and community? There seems to be a lot of message here, but it isn’t clear what it is.

As I sat there, marvelling at the skill and power of Bianca ‘Krotoa’ Flanders I imagined what this piece would be like as a one-woman show and I got very excited by the idea.

What: Krotoa, Eva van de Kaap

Where and when: Artscape Arena from 7 to 16 February 2019

Book: Computicket or 021 421 7695

WS