at Assembly Rooms George Square, Sunday 19th August 2012
It’s tough for young people to understand the way in which the minds of those older than us work. It’s why there’s always so much tension between generations; neither takes time to consider how the other thinks. In the context of post-apartheid South Africa, Rachelle Greeff’s The Sewing Machine touches on this subject alongside ideas of loss, embodied in an extraordinary performance from Sandra Prinsloo.
Prinsloo’s character Magdaleen has lived through apartheid and seen its demise, but still finds it hard to change the way she speaks. She recounts how she is told off by her children for using words like “Bantu” in 2012, and cannot reconcile the new society with old ways. Now her husband is dead, all she has to remember the times before the 90s is an old sewing machine, to which she is telling this story.
At times, it feels to me like Greeff’s play excuses conservative attitudes, but the complexity of her writing and the tightness of structure means this doesn’t take precedence. Instead, the overriding theme is one of being alone, having lost things which are dear to you. Having lost the way of life she was comfortable with, Magdaleen must learn to cope how to move on in this new world, no matter how little time she has. This is demonstrated by her final altruistic act of giving away her sewing machine to help an AIDS charity, as she recognises she must leave behind her past if she is to have any effect on the future.
Prinsloo’s performance is the best I’ve seen at the Fringe this year. At times utterly charming and others disconcertingly naïve, she portrays a woman at an important stage of her life, experiencing an epitome which will change her view on things. She admits she had to live as a mother and a wife separately, deep in her own personal apartheid, a truly tragic concept which we can all relate to in our personal and public personas. Astonishingly, she builds a rapport with the disembodied voices emanating from the space, as she converses with her past.
The Sewing Machine is perhaps a play which will divide audiences along generational lines, but there is no doubting that Prinsloo’s performance is electrifying. Hennie van Greunen’s direction brings to life Greeff’s writing simply but powerfully, focussing on things which hold emotional resonance. Magdaleen’s inner struggle stems directly from post-apartheid events, but the argument she has with herself is no doubt universal.