WOMB OF FIRE. Written and performed by Rehane Abrahams. Directed by Sara Matchett. Design by Craig Leo. Sonic-scape by Lukhanyiso Skosana. Presented by The Mothertongue Project at the Baxter Theatre.
Photographs: Rob Keith
KAREN RUTTER reviews
What a remarkable piece of work has been created by Rehane Abrahams and Sara Matchett. Unutterably beautiful, inexorably painful, it’s a production that leaves one floundering for breath after its startling conclusion. Womb of Fire lays down a fascinating – and ultimately feminist – narrative, resounding with the soulful ghosts of history and mythology. Meticulous research melds with memory to form a dynamic account of three women – three “troublesome” women – and their fate.
Draupadi is drawn from the Sanskrit epic The Mahabarata, Catrijn (1631 – 1682) was the first recorded female convict slave banished to the Dutch-occupied Cape, and Zara (1648 – 1671) was a Khoikhoi woman born in the Cape and employed as a servant from a young age. We are told their stories in a series of episodes that move across continents and centuries, linked by themes of abuse and misogyny, but also by tenderness and often pure gees. The common denominator here, holding it all together, is author and performer Abrahams, who turns in one of the most extraordinary performances seen in a long while.
With her confident athleticism and chameleon-like ability to change into the skins of a range of characters, Abrahams embarks on an emotional roller-coaster ride that has the audience bellowing with laughter at one moment and shocked into silence the next. Hers is an engrossing, charismatic, mercurial performance, one which has been perfectly guided by director Matchett, who holds this complex and controversial offering with such care.
It’s testament to the 17-year friendship the women have shared, since collaborating on the first Mothertongue Project production What the Water Gave Me in 2000. They’ve travelled different paths since then, in different countries, but in 2014 began working on this project, which grew into Womb of Fire. The catalyst for the text came from conversations that Abrahams had with her mother, well-known chef Cass Abrahams, about ancestry and grandmothers.
The work debuted last year at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and recently played at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala in India. Just this month, it was announced it had won three major awards at the University of Stellenbosch Woordfees – Best Director, Best Play and Best Performer. A major accomplishment – but also quite understandable!
The work is very much a collaborative piece, with Craig Leo supplying simple but effective design and Lukhanyiso Skosana accompanying Abrahams’ performance with a haunting, roaring soundtrack of her own devising, at times creating powerful, roiling duets.
Womb of Fire is richly rewarding and starkly relevant. It’ll stay with you a long time after leaving the theatre …
What: Womb of Fire
Where and when: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 18 April to 5 May 2018