Throughout our lives we often fall into such a routine and are hardly offered anything to shake us out of our daily existence. Even when we head to the theatre for a night out, we opt for a musical or something light-hearted. Something that requires as little thought and consideration as possible.
But then along comes a play such as Die Rypmaakkamer – the Afrikaans translation of The Curing Room – that literally and figuratively strips us to the core of what it means to be human.Set in the Spring of 1944, 7 Soviet Soldiers have been captured by the Nazis, stripped naked and abandoned in the locked empty cellar of a monastery in Southern Poland. Deprived of all ties to their world, the prisoners redefine their concepts of order and human nature. In order to survive the men, resort to murder and cannibalism. Breaking rank and breaking flesh collide – how do they reconcile rank, faith and dignity in such circumstances? Such is the plot for Die Rypmaakkamer, a powerful, thought-provoking play with moments of dark humour.
Die Rypmaakkamer, directed by Frans Swart, is a bold and daring thriller inspired by these true events and features David Konrad, Mauritz Badenhorst, Dirk Joubert, Anele Situlweni, Gregg Pettigrew, Nathan Hammond and Zack Mtombeni.
I had the privilege of sitting down with these gentlemen to find out more about this groundbreaking production.
What do you see as the relevance of the story all these years later?
Frans: I saw the play in Edinburgh 4 years back and it stopped me in my tracks. We have always learned how terrible the Nazis were but now we need to ask ourselves, how have we changed? We are in such an advanced technological age and see ourselves as civilized but are we really?
Gregg: It goes a lot further than just being relevant to South Africa. The relevance extends to the entire world. We are living in a time of complete social and moral decay. People close their eyes to the atrocities currently happening. This is perhaps worse because at the end of WW2, society stood up and said never again and ironically we’ve let worse happen. The human race today is probably the most disgusting species on the planet. I feel the more we can show people what happened in 1944, this will help them wake up to what is currently going on. The play is a reflection on society.
Mauritz: It’s what’s behind the story. We all think we have certain set beliefs but once you are in a certain situation you realise you will actually question these beliefs. Will you stand by them or will you falter? When you are at the brink of death will you forgo your morals and beliefs?
David: There is so much talk about what would happen if civil war had to break out in South Africa. So this is an opportunity to show audiences what war really looks like and hopefully change this rhetoric.
How do you think South Africa audiences will relate to the piece?
Anele: The nudity will initially be shocking because we are not used to it. But apart from that, we are confronted with so much violence in our country so the play will shock you but it will also make you think. You will be confronted with the harshness of the human condition. I’m hoping it will make people re-evaluate their own way of thinking and their perception of the world and the people around them.
Mauritz: It’s not only the harsh and the ugly though. There are beautiful moments where you can see what real human connections are and how you form these when you have to survive. This isn’t a piece that you can analyse as it happens. It’s effect on the audience will definitely be in retrospect. It will stay with you for a few days.
Gregg: I don’t believe that a piece like this has ever been attempted in South Africa. This is ground-breaking theatre staged in the theatre that helped change our nation. The 7 of us realise how privileged we are to be tackling a piece of this magnitude. What makes this special is that it’s theatre that has a lasting effect after you have seen it. Audiences need to bring lots of tissues.
Anele: This play also shows how the people with power in this world can affect those they have power over. It highlights that how sometimes we all become victims of circumstance and those in power are never held accountable. It will hopefully reinforce that we as a people have the power to hold those individuals accountable.
David, tell us about the challenge of being a public face on South African TV to now be doing this type of a controversial production.
David: It’s a real challenge. On TV you become part of the fabric of certain cultures in South Africa. You’ve been in peoples’ living rooms every day. In my case I was this very straight-laced, righteous lawyer and for me it’s about stretching myself past this for people to realise that I have more range as an actor. It’s about taking on projects that I believe in and that I feel will make an impact.
On a personal level, a good friend of mine was killed last year by 4 men who broke into his house. What struck me was the absolute love that poured out at his funeral. There was no hatred towards this crime. I’m often reminded of something he said to me. The word drama is from the Greek word “catharsis” which means in Afrikaans to “skrik” (frighten) and then bring to a realisation. That is what I aspire to do as an actor, to do work that will stop people and give them a different perspective.
What are your feelings about the nudity in the piece and how do you feel audiences will react?
Dirk: People will be shocked. They will walk in and it will be in their face but honestly even though it sounds like it plays a big part in the show, it really plays a very small part. You are going to notice it for about the first 5 minutes then there are bigger themes and things that are dealt with. These are of a much bigger shock factor than the nudity. In the script the nudity gets addressed very quickly and then the bigger issues overshadow it.
Anele: If people walk away just thinking they saw 7 naked men then we haven’t done our job, which makes it a very tall order for us as the actors. We need to be really connected to the story and to what we are doing on stage.
What drew you to audition for Die Rypmaakkamer?
David: Similar to what I mentioned earlier. It was the social commentary against violence and that it brings people face to face with what war actually is.
Mauritz: In this industry it’s very difficult to break into certain areas. I realised this is an opportunity you’re not going to get again in your career. I’m personally quite scared of nudity but the story pulled me in so much that I was willing to say it’s not about me and focus on what’s being conveyed. It’s where you can really build a character and go into spaces where it’s not comfortable. You get to really use your craft.
Dirk: I was fascinated by the idea that we usually have costumes, sets and lighting that as an actor you use to your advantage. For us it’s now just 7 men in a room and you’re naked. It tests you to the purest form of acting. The simplicity of the piece also adds to its power. It’s raw and it’s real. There’s no way around it and it has a beautiful sense of humanity.
Gregg: I had seen the script a number of years ago and never thought it would get done in this country. So when the brief came out I thought I don’t care what language it is being done in, I’ll work around the language. You come across scripts as you go through your career and some are just bucket list scripts. This is one of those.
Nathan: I am very blessed to be part of this play. I’m still very young and new to the industry so this is really teaching me so much. For me it was about getting the opportunity and to work with this amazing cast who have been in the industry for much longer than I have. I’m learning from them every day.
Putting together a production of this nature is no mean feat. Give us some insight into the process so far.
Frans: I was very lucky to meet the British director and the writer and we actually became friends. They gave me a lot of their insight into the process behind the piece. We struggled with a lot of festivals to take the play. When we approached the Market Theatre, we were almost ready to give up on it. We had to make sure that we got the right people and I am so blessed to have this cast. We then had everything in place and that’s when I wanted to run away. But the rehearsal process has been wonderful. To do this piece with clothes is difficult. It’s even more difficult to do it naked. So we laugh a lot, that’s our survival mechanism.
Dirk: We have been made to feel incredibly safe. We were checked on constantly to make sure we were ok, physically, emotionally and mentally. That is rare to find. On our first day of rehearsals Frans gave us each a journal for us to journal about what we are feeling and thinking. That made me feel safe. This whole production requires a huge level of trust.
Mauritz: Frans allowed us to explore and bring the characters out and then he guided us. We built this production together.
Lefra is well known for doing big commercial productions such as musicals and farces. What was your motivation to do this play?
Frans: I think madness… no on a serious note, I come from a serious drama background and we did a lot of protest theatre. We also wanted to show the theatre world that we can do more than just farces and musicals. The short answer is that the piece grabbed me and I said I must just do it!
Die Rypmaakkamer features nudity, language and violence and carries an age restriction of 18 years. Die Rypmaakkamer is presented in association with The Market Theatre and the proud support of RSG, Sounds Good, Hollywood Costumes, Van Loveren Wines and Stuttaford Van Lines.
Die Rypmaakkamer will be presented at the Market Theatre from Friday 7 to Sunday 30 June 2019.
Book your tickets for this riveting piece of theatre at www.webtickets.co.za, or purchase your tickets at any Pick ‘n Pay store. For group bookings, contact Anthony Ezeoke firstname.lastname@example.org 011 832 1641/ 083 246 4950.