Krige's dry, white season
The former is linked to Etienne Leroux and the latter to Uys Krige. Coincidentally both are directed by Marthinus Basson, who has a total of five shows on the boards at the festival, ranging across performance styles from comedy to pantomime and drama.
For Basson Die Goue Seun is a further ‘investigation” into the creation of non-linear dramatic works — that originate from an emotional rather than a cerebral impulse — which he initially undertook with last year’s critically acclaimed Tango del Fuego.
The script for the new work has been edited together, by Basson and Saartje Botha, from Krige’s own writings (in a cut and paste process that Basson regards as metaphoric for the writer’s own mercurial life), while Krige’s niece, in the person of the inimitable Grethe Fox, takes the role of Sannie — Krige’s mother and her own grandmother.
In answer to a question on Krige’s place in the pantheon of Afrikaans writers, Basson maintains that ‘he can be regarded as mentor to the likes of Breyten Breytenbach and Ingrid Jonker”.
The director regards Krige’s thinking as so far ahead of its time that his work in the 1930s and 1940s can be seen as foreshadowing, ‘by almost twenty years”, the surrealist-influenced writings of Die Sestigers group that was composed of giants such as Jonker, Andre Brink and Leroux.
Fox speaks with great enthusiasm for the work of her august relative. She recalls a flamboyant, ebullient character given to quoting French and Spanish poetry at the breakfast table. In describing his university of life experiences throughout Europe in the early part of the last century she says: ‘Uys was the first Afrikaans writer to cross the borders of language and politics, and of the country, and to step out of the Germanic box in which Afrikaans literature found itself at that time.”
His various translations of European literature exposed Afrikaans readers to the works of Mediterranean writers — Garcia Lorca, for example, whose Yerma (Krige’s translation) is on the KKNK programme. His detailed search for the best possible word-match to the writer’s original intention is embodied in a fevered exposition of his translation of King Lear. Andre Roodtman plays, among others, a father figure to the young Krige, and his step into Shakespeare’s tragic king is minutely scrutinised by the attentive translator (Neels van Jaarsveld) as a test of his interpretative efforts. Francois le Roux completes the cast as a periodic foil for Van Jaarsveld and the provider of appropriate musical ambience.
Krige’s continental sojourn, during the rise of fascism, permitted him to recognise the insidious warning signs in the emergence of Afrikaner nationalism. His outspoken humanist views ultimately caused his professional isolation. JC Kannemeyer’s new biography, Die Goue Seun (Die Lewe en Werk van Uys Krige) — presented for the first time at Oudtshoorn — records political machinations at the highest levels that prevented the literary establishment from recognising Krige’s work. Fox sees the play and the book as steps towards righting this imbalance.
In preparation for Botha’s and Basson’s work, Fox identified 46 professional and personal highlights in Krige’s life that are theatrically fertile. ‘It is impossible to cover a life as diverse as Krige’s on the stage,” says Basson, ‘so the play works on an emotional rather than a purely narrative level”. Time is not linear. For example the young Krige explains his older self’s life-long passion for words. He is reputed to have written his first poem at age 14 while Tram-ode, regarded by some as his best poem, was completed at the tender age of 23. Krige’s gently self-deprecating voice returns throughout the play: ‘Ek wou altyd maar net rugby speel ... maar ek was te stadig.” Krige actually played rugby in Toulon, and later became a swimming instructor — or ‘professor in swem” in his own words.
Fox’s specific knowledge of her uncle’s life was largely cursory until she began the work of compiling material to be developed into the script, which included listening to about 12 hours of interviews. This abundant vocal archive was the source of many of the lines delivered by Van Jaarsveld and also assisted him in mimicking Krige’s distinctive high-speed and erratic speech patterns.
Fox remembers Sannie as a woman in her eighties, while the character she portrays is in her forties. ‘The Sannie in the play is a generic representation of my grandmother. The essential factor is her relationship with Uys, which was tremendously important for both of them,” she says. It was said of Krige that his umbilical cord had never been cut. His mother is an undeniably strong influence on his life and work. Her letters would sometimes scold him for ill discipline, and suggest that he could improve as a writer if he were less flighty and more focused on the task at hand.
Krige’s oeuvre consists of a wealth of poems and drama in Afrikaans, translations of major works of other writers, short stories in English (including the much travelled Death of a Zulu), and a novel, The Way Out, which deals with his escape from a German POW camp. The book had to be written in English because, at the time of its publishing, to have produced the story in Afrikaans would have branded him a traitor. The story was finally published in Afrikaans in 1987 (the year of his death) as Morestêr oor die Abruzzi.
Die Goue Seun was made possible with the financial support of the KKNK and the NAC. It is to be hoped that it will have a life beyond its Oudtshoorn run.
Die Goue Seun enjoys two final performances at the KKNK on April 5 and 6 at 6.30pm. Yerma is on April 5 at 9pm and April 6 at 7pm. Call Computicket on 083 915 8000