PLAY TAKES ON POLITICS OF THE FEMALE BODY
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.