The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MASEGO PANYANE

WITH the coun­try reel­ing from the spike in the vi­o­lent deaths of women in the past few months, Womb of Fire fur­ther fu­els the con­ver­sa­tion around the fe­male body as a site of dis­rup­tion.

It un­does the myths around women, their place in so­ci­ety and their safety.

On a dimly lit stage at the Rhodes Theatre, the sto­ries of three women in his­tory come to life through the body of Re­hane Abra­hams. The suf­fer­ing of Drau­padi, Zara and Ca­trijn takes cen­tre stage and pulls au­di­ence mem­bers to re-eval­u­ate their own re­la­tion­ship to women, their bod­ies and sense of au­ton­omy.

The play ex­plores the lives and pol­i­tics sur­round­ing Drau­padi, from the In­dian epic Ma­hab­harata; Ca­trijn, the first recorded fe­male con­vict slave ban­ished to the then Dutch-oc­cu­pied Cape of Good Hope; and Zara, a khoikhoi woman born in the Cape and em­ployed as a ser­vant from a young age.

Abra­hams, who plays all three women, takes the au­di­ence into the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Drau­padi in front of the courts of the time – that was only nar­rowly min­imised by di­vine in­ter­ven­tion.

Then the heart­break that Ca­tr­jin goes through, her rape and sub­se­quent ban­ish­ment; as well as the tribu­la­tions of Zara, who was never able to be her own per­son.

De­scrib­ing the play, Abra­hams said it was about the fe­male body caus­ing dis­rup­tion. It was about “The fe­male body dis­rupt­ing the sta­tus quo. Where the char­ac­ters chal­lenge the laws of the land with their own bod­ies.”

The play is a deeply mov­ing ex­plo­ration of the three women, pre­sent­ing them not only as vic­tims, but shed­ding light on who they were be­neath their vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

The women are pre­sented as strong-willed, lov­ing, fear­less and hav­ing a sense of hu­mour to match. We hear their thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ence their pain and dis­ap­point­ment as they nar­rate their ex­pe­ri­ences through Abra­hams.

The us­age of props is lim­ited, with an al­most empty stage. A pole, a man­nequin, long satin ma­te­rial, high­heeled shoes and a bright blue wig are the only props used.

Abra­hams’s phys­i­cal strength and agility are dis­played each time she uses the pole – it serves the pur­pose of be­ing one of the main tools of trav­el­ling be­tween sit­u­a­tions and of il­lus­trat­ing spe­cific mo­ments in the play.

Lukhany­iso Skosana pro­vides haunt­ing vo­cals that work to es­tab­lish the play’s sonic-scape.

A vis­i­bly emo­tional Abra­hams said the play’s open­ing per­for­mance was ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of 14-year-old Cape Town girl Cam­ron Britz, who was found raped and mur­dered this week.

A month be­fore her death, Cam­ron had a night­mare about her mur­der, but told her fam­ily and friends in sev­eral let­ters that she couldn’t see the per­pe­tra­tors in the dream.

Abra­hams said one of their in­spi­ra­tions was Ma­nipuri women.

“One of the first in­spi­ra­tions is when Sara and I were at a con­fer­ence in Ma­nipur, In­dia, and the Ma­nipuri women protested. A woman had been raped and shot in the vagina by the In­dian gov­ern­ment. As a response, the vil­lage women went to the army bar­racks and took off their clothes in protest.

“What I’m iden­ti­fy­ing is that there are lan­guages of power, strength and weak­ness that we must some­how mas­sage out of our mas­culin­ity. We have to de­velop a nur­tur­ing mas­culin­ity. There are men in the play who take care and are kind, and we need to see more of that,” Abra­hams said.


FAS­CI­NAT­ING ROLES: A scene from the play Womb of Fire at the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val. It ex­plores the pol­i­tics of the fe­male body. The ac­tress in the pic­tures is Re­hane Abra­hams.

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