PROFIEL

Om ’n gehate karakter te speel

deur Marina Griebenow
Produksie: The Woman Who Fed the Dogs
Foto’s: Jeremeo Le Cordeur

Soms delf ’n mens onverwags ’n skitterblink juweel op ’n kunstefees raak. Dít het verlede jaar gebeur op die voorlaaste dag van die Suidoosterfees. Skielik was daar ’n geskarrel vir kaartjies vir The Woman Who Fed the Dogs, ’n Engelstalige produksie wat Lee-Ann van Rooi in samewerking met ’n paar Belgiese vroue gedoen het.

Ons was in die Arena-teater by die Kunstekaap ingeryg soos sardiens. Sommige het op die trappe gesit en ander het selfs langs die kant gestaan vir die duur van dié spannende 80 minute lange stuk. Aan die einde stap die gehoor tjoepstil uit die teater na waar die skerp sonlig n verdere aanslag op die sinne is wat reeds rou geskaaf is.

The Woman Who Fed the Dogs is die verhaal van Michelle Martin, die vrou en medepligtige van Marc Dutroux, die berugte Belgiese reeksmoordenaar en pedofiel. Martin is destyds tot 30 jaar tronkstraf gevonnis. Kristien Hemmerechts, n Belgiese skrywer, het in Martin se kop probeer klim om te bepaal wat n mens aandadig kan maak aan sulke gruweldade. Dis nie maklike kykstof nie, maar tog uiters boeiend.

MARINA GRIEBENOW het vir LEE-ANN VAN ROOI uitgevra oor haar rol in dié produksie en hoe sy daarby betrokke geraak het.

Last year in August I was working with the Jong Sterre at the Jakes Gerwel Foundation when I was approached by Jana Hattingh, head of the Suidoosterfees. Sy vra toe: “Lee-Ann, stel jy dalk daarin belang om ‘n one-woman show te doen?” “It depends on what it is,” I answered. Deesdae doen ek net werk wat ek dink regtig nodig is. 

I think that is important. Let us start there: It is necessary. The what and how and who and how we go about doing it, does not really matter to me at this point. Now that I am in my 50’s, het ek net soveel tyd oor. I do not want to be involved with something that does not lend to our industry or does not have a powerful statement and does not help our arts and culture to go forward. En dit kan in watter vorm ook al kom, al is dit net dat ons nou lekker gaan lag.

The story of Michelle Martin came to me in its Flemish form. I was sent a link and I watched the performance of a Dutch actress (in the part of Michelle Martin). I thought it was really powerful. I did not understand 100% of what was being said; yet I understood. Their show was much longer than our show of 80 minutes, but that is how their theatre works.

I realised that the story was important. So we did some research about the characters and the actual story. The fact that not much was available on social media piqued my interest. Why would you want to hide something that was so big, something that really rocked the world? I actually remember the story. I think I was in my early twenties when it happened.

The woman who fed the dogs - foto deur Jeremeo Le Cordeur

We were still at university. I remember the faces in the pictures I looked at, but there are no interviews to be found. Here and there would be a small article about it; no more.

The play was written and workshopped before Covid-19 on the occasion of Michelle Martin being released from prison, after having been incarcerated for only 16 years of her 30-year sentence. Again it was shaking the Belgian world.

What was so interesting about it was that in my 20’s I actually visited Belgium. I found it such an interesting country. It was very stately and controlled and beautiful. That was another reason I was interested, because I had visited the country and seen a little bit of the land. I love travelling. I love people. I love cultures.

So I thought that this play would be a real challenge. However, nobody wants to talk about it, even in Belgium. Everybody knows the story; nobody wants to talk about it. Everything is hidden. There is shame, there is guilt, there is everything associated with a bad story. They want to say: This is not who we are and we do not want to show the world that this is who we are.

Back in South Africa, I could see so many parallels between their gender-based violence and ours. We hear the horror stories of what is happening in our communities, right under our noses. I think of the violence perpetrated against girl children in particular – by women, by men, by teachers, the works. It is tough being a woman in this country, irrespective of your colour, irrespective of your social upbringing, irrespective of everything. Just by virtue of being a woman in South Africa, you are already at a disadvantage.

Die rol van Michelle Martin was ‘n perd van ‘n ander kleur. Ek kan gewoonlik my karakters saam met my dra en te eniger tyd in die karakter klim of haar binne my oproep. Ek het toegang tot wie sy is sodra sy vir my gewys het wie sy is. Ek was nog altyd in beheer van die vertolking van elke rol wat ek tot dusver gegee is, maar hierdie vrou! Sy het my siek gemaak. Sy het my liggaam seergemaak; dus moes ek gou ‘n ander manier kry om met haar te werk, want die mishandeling is nou nog so erg en dit lê diép. Wat ek met haar gedoen het, is om met haar langs my te werk. Ek weet nie of dit sin maak nie, maar dit is wat ek probeer doen het. Sy is langs my. Dan klim ek in haar in en doen wat ek moet doen en klim weer uit en los die karakter net daar.

Die kostuum help baie, want dit is só anders. Toe ek dit die eerste keer aantrek, het Julie van den Berghe (die regisseur) ‘n foto geneem. Toe sien ek dit lyk soos daardie Barbie-toiletpapierhouers wat die ou anties gebrei het. ‘n Mens het dit in ons oupas en oumas se huise gekry. That is honestly what she looked like to me, but that was the style that they were going with.

The wigs were there because the other actress had short hair and because Michelle Martin constantly went on about her hair. She had long, thick, beautiful blonde hair at her trial. I think wearing a wig was also an interesting and different way of breaking into the character. 

The woman who fed the dogs - foto deur Jeremeo Le Cordeur

I had to do the first week or two weeks alone, prepping the script so that the story was relevant to me. I made it work. When I got to Belgium, we sat and worked through the script from beginning to end. We were really just working through who this person was, what this person was, and the stories behind everything. That is why they decided to write it this way. I found that fascinating.

The accent was around me all the time. In Belgium I stayed with Kristien (the author). That was also a beautiful experience because I could see how she worked. I could observe the character she was too and why the novel was so amazing. She told me lots of things about Martin. Some of it was not in the book, but they were things that she had discovered when she was doing her research. She realised why this woman was important to her and why she wanted to write this particular book, The Woman Who Fed the Dogs. It fascinated her.

One thing I do know about being in this industry, and also about stories, is the level of trust one has to have within oneself. If you find something interesting, you know somebody else is going to find it interesting too. That is how we approached it. The accent just arrived one day. Ek het my mond oopgemaak, and it was there. I thought that I would not need to work with an accent, but we had to go in that direction as a result of the translation that was from Flemish Dutch to English.

The translation was done by Paul Vincent, an Englishman. Consequently it did not sound like South African English. It feels as if you are watching it from afar and has a very Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. It is also very much Cocteau, because you are burning at the same time. In this play you are exposed to those two theorists when it comes to performance. I went back and had a look, just to remind myself what the theories were about. And how to bring it together in the script. It took a long time. 

I still do not know if I have really got her, and I do not know if I will ever get her. There is no way that my daily life experiences could be as bad as hers. So I do not know if I really got her or not. All I know is that when I am telling the story, different parts change every time. My poging is om die waarheid te vertel. Om deur die storie te loop van beat tot beat as honestly as I can… and from my own point of view. Ek is jammer as ek nou ‘n bietjie huil. The piece is important to me. People really go through this.”

Toe Hemmerechts gevra is waarom sy die boek geskryf het, het sy geantwoord: “Dink aan my as n antropoloog. Ek bestudeer menslike gedrag. Ek wil dit verstaan, maar dit beteken nie goedkeuring nie. Natuurlik keur ek nie goed wat sy gedoen het nie, maar ek dink tog ek verstaan nou hoe dit gebeur het.” Van Rooi doen baie dapper dieselfde vir haar gehoor.

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