A critical review by Matthew A. J. Wannenburgh
Amee Lekas’ Die Dans van die Watermeid is an emotionally thrilling and socially charged piece of South African theatre playing on the local folklore of the fabled Willowmore water nymph or water maiden, much in the same vein as the Uniondale spectre. Set in the small Karoo town of Willowmore, this Afrikaans drama conveys a broad narrative which inventively portrays the story of individuals unable to free themselves from troubling memories of their respective pasts, showcasing the many manifestations of both grief and denial. The central themes include racism, rape, sexuality, and social stigma through an inventive mosaic of highly tensive scenes and rousing dialogue building towards a cathartic release of thinly veiled secrets and psychological trauma.
Despite the plots deliberate complexity, it still succeeds in sustaining a good measure of coherency and a surprisingly rich application of a relatively minimalist set design. The most striking set installation was the curtain of chains intended to evoke the visuals of water, and mimic the patter of rain intended to herald the Watermeid, as a harbinger of budding female sexuality in older Griqua and Khoisan folklore.
The Dominee’s stabbing scene particularly channeled a genuine Hitchcockian suspense, and the use of simple set props succeeded in enhancing the dramatic experience. Director Jason Jacobs’ synthesis of Lekas’ writing allowed for a degree of clarity and guidance regarding closer details of the plot, that may have been obscured by the differing vernaculars of the Afrikaans language employed in this performance. One may have also enjoyed seeing the overturned contents of each biscuit tin being scattered across the floor in a hail of coins and grayscale photographs (representative of their memories and secrets being revealed). Jacobs approach to his props frames them as tools for systematic storytelling, and not simple ornamentation.
The diverse cast of acclaimed actors illustrates a noticeable regional consciousness for the plays subject matter and a commitment to authenticity both in speech and appearance. Additionally, it also provided a rich spectrum of the Afrikaans vernacular, and a sobering peek into the lives of some of its speakers.
In my opinion, this realm of theatre touches on a largely untold anthology of South African literature and herein proved to be a performance both moving and didactic.