Unravelling the Stitches: The Sewing MachineJana van Heerden
Jana van Heerden: Dressed in homemade Coco Chanel-in-sensible-shoes, she carries the audience’s every emotion in the trembling palm of her hand.
I was very fortunate to see Die Naaimasjien at the Volksblad Kunstefees (now the Vryfees) in 2009. Was it good? Well, it was the first play for which I gave a standing ovation. Sandra Prinsloo’s towering performance as Magdaleen has since become the benchmark for me. Each time I go to the theatre I ask myself, did these actors act even half as well as Prinsloo did? If yes I will happily stand up.
The Sewing Machine is an English translation of Rachelle Greeff’s Die Naaimasjien. The translation by the production’s director, Hennie van Greunen, is about as accurate as one can translate Afrikaans to English. Some of the humour is lost but the heart of the story is still there, beating away. You will feel the absolute loneliness of Magdaleen. You will be slightly uncomfortable with her racism. But by the end you will almost certainly have gained some insight into the mind of a woman who allowed her government to dictate her views on race, but struggles to accept that her own child might want to walk his own path.
Magdaleen is not fond of change and her trusty Bernina sewing machine is just about the only element in her life that has remained the same. This machine has been her constant companion through the years – behind it she has spent many happy hours clothing her family and, later, bonding with her son. The sewing machine is a point of pride for Magdaleen and the history of it is intrinsically linked with her own life story.
The set might as well have been a real room carted in from an old age room and dropped on to the stage. The oversized and old-fashioned furniture makes the space feel more small and cramped, and Magdaleen more small and vulnerable. There is of course a beautiful tea set and, in pride of place, the Bernina sewing machine in its original wooden case. The scene triggered so many memories for me that I could actually smell my own grandmother’s room: a slight staleness, barely masked by hints of lavender.
And best of all, Sandra Prinsloo recreates her character masterfully. Dressed in homemade Coco Chanel-in-sensible-shoes, she carries the audience’s every emotion in the trembling palm of her hand.
You will need tissues, but only if you have tear ducts.
Along with Normality also directed by van Greunen, The Sewing Machine was a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival 2012. See both at The Baxter’s Golden Arrow Studio until 10 November 2012.
Jana van Heerden
021 447 5057
Web site: http://www.baxter.co.za
Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town Western Cape South Africa