SA play heads for Broadway


NORMALITY, written by Hennie van Greunen, comes full circle when it debuts on Broadway next month.

Originally written as Lyf in 2000, the play was partly inspired by the scriptwriter’s sister’s experiences with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the skill of actor Pedro Kruger and Van Greunen watching Whoopi Goldberg on Broadway.

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Her 1985 performance of The Spook Show revolutionised the concept of the one-person show through her use of several different character monologues and made a very strong impression on Van Greunen.

Lyf is a love story between a man whose body has been ravaged by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and the woman who refuses to fall for his scathing humour to look past the scarred body to see the man hiding there.

The play made its Edinburgh debut in English as Normality in 2009, where it received critical acclaim, but had low audience attendance. Van Greunen says his experience this year with The Sewing Machine (Rachelle Greeff’s play which he translated from Die Naaimasjien) has inspired him to try taking Normality to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again.

This year The Sewing Machine was part of The Assembly Festival’s SA mini season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Sandra Prinsloo received rave reviews and audience attendance picked up dramatically as the festival went on.

Van Greunen described it as a huge deal for them that Prinsloo did so well in her one-woman show, considering it was up against Yael Farber’s Mies Julie on the same platform.

“Sandra was a bit nervous. She’s this old lady with make-up and the first time she went out there, people reacted immediately. They responded very viscerally. Every reviewer remarked on the brilliance of the performance,” said Van Greunen.

He could tell when there were South Africans in the audience because of the way they would respond to references and he was tickled by the way many of the women in the audience took a look at the sewing machine after the play, only to remark that they remember their mothers using similar machines.

“One reviewer said the play was for him primarily about the infidelity of humans and the fidelity of machines in our lives. I liked that,” said Van Greunen.

Their Edinburgh Fringe Festival success opens doors for the Wordsmith Theatre Group to investigate taking the one-woman show to travel through England.

“This is a chance, a way to showcase the brilliance of South African stories,” said Van Greunen, saying “the human condition” expressed through local theatre seems to be the missing ingredient that sets our stories apart from much of the other work he managed to catch at the festival.

Normality will debut on Broadway, at ROWTheatre on 42nd Street in the United Solo Festival, a festival of one-person theatre on November 10.

• Before that day dawns, though, he’ll pass another watershed moment on October 28 when three Wordsmith Theatre Group productions are being performed at various venues (Normality at the Baxter, Shirley Valentyn at Die Boer in Durbanville and Grieta kry Geleerdheid at the State Theatre).

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