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SANDRA Prinsloo is a most unusual phenomenon in today’s world. She’s building an enviable stage repertoire at a point in her career when many actors start winding down. She’s our equivalent of Helen Mirren, someone who can cross over to any genre, but for those of us who love live theatre, Sandra has made an obvious choice about her own preferences.
She’s done a lot of television work and in between her many theatre engagements she’s currently doing interviews with different personalities for her KYKnet series, Sandra op ’n Drafstap, to be broadcast later.
Perhaps more visible are her recent theatre endeavours, her first solo show, Die Naaimasjien, followed by another, Oskar en die Pienk Tannie, as well as starring roles in Janneman, Nag, Ma (Night Mother) and the most recent, Liefde, Anna,which deals with the legendary actress and teacher Anna Neethling-Pohl.
Die Naaimasjien, written by author/poet Rachelle Greeff, has recently been translated into English by producer Hennie van Greunen, and with Sandra they took this English version to the recent Edinburgh Festival.
“The response was astonishing,” says Sandra, who last performed at the festival in the early 1980s with John Kani in the then controversial production of Miss Julie.
She knew the translated Naaimasjien, titled The Sewing Machine, would work well locally but she wasn’t sure it would make the transcontinental shift. It did and received glowing reviews and good houses, which is tough at a festival with more than 4 000 shows.
It’s one of those plays, Sandra’s first solo show in her career, that screamed for a translation, as does the current Oskar en die Pienk Tannie. Dealing with the loneliness of a woman ageing, the universality, the poetry of the Greeff text and Sandra’s exquisite performance, it was a no-brainer.
Van Greunen, a masterful producer and excellent translator, did the work and got the ball rolling following their first joint venture.
“He’s an amazing marketer,” says Sandra, who watched him target the internet at Edinburgh and with ingenious style contact sewing circles, for example, to promote the show.” He’s not lazy,” she says with admiration. At the recent Aardklop, she introduced her second solo show to a wider audience. Oskar en die Pienk Tannie had short runs at a few festivals and venues, but in Potchefstroom she was showing off the new baby for the world to see.
“I love this one,” says Sandra, who was given the play by Professor Naomi Morgan, who had translated it from French into Afrikaans. It’s to be hoped the English will follow soon, because it has huge potential to travel widely.
As producer, Sandra teamed up with Cape director Lara Bye, because she knew she was perfect for the play. “I love the way she boils over all the time,” Sandra notes.
It’s the story of a 10-year-old boy who is dying of cancer. He is supported by someone called the pink aunt (pienk tannie) and the relationship between these two diverse characters as they console and cajole each other is central.
Sandra plays both, and with her extraordinary craft it is quite overwhelming.”We had to adapt the script slightly, shorten it from two and a half hours to a more sensible 75 minutes, and take out a few European rather than African sensibilities, like a 10-year-old listening to Tchaikovsky,” she says.
She visited the oncology ward of a local hospital to see what children with such devastating illnesses do and the thing doctors agree on is that you can’t lie to them.
“I was so moved by the text, I knew I could move an audience,” she says – a requirement for her when she attaches her name to some- thing. “It has to be rewarding for everyone. We have to confront certain issues and make the audience feel something.”
Oskar is an endearing and unusually uplifting text, but take boxes of tissues along once it comes your way. There was hardly a dry eye in the auditorium.
Third in line, Liefde, Anna, in this new trio of productions, is based on the life of the actress/teacher Anna Neethling-Pohl, who taught Sandra when she first started her drama studies at the University of Pretoria.
“I can’t remember everything, but I do recall her sense of humour.
It was wry and a bit throw-away and I clocked it even at the time,” she says. “She was fiery but funny.”
Still, she was slightly scared of playing the grande dame until director Louis van Niekerk assured her that she didn’t have to be Anna, just establish her essence.
“That soothed me somewhat,” she says. With a script that scooped the Aardklop Smeltktroes Best Afrikaans Script at the recent festival (playwright Schalk Schoombie), it’s another play that will travel. “We think it will play well, especially in Pretoria and Cape Town,” she says. But they’re not sure yet about venues or times.
In Pretoria, for example, the State Theatre was the only venue where they didn’t attract excellent houses for Janneman. “We’re waiting for them to get their act together,” she says, adding her voice to what is becoming a strong choir.
“Obviously, Sandra has found a way to flourish in a career that everyone describes as one of the toughest. She has weathered every storm, slipped into a sidestream seamlessly when stage didn’t offer much, but returned whenever she had the chance. She was inspired by her recent excursion to Edinburgh to see what she describes as “visionary work”. She realises we don’t have the infrastructure, artistic companies or audiences to work on that scale.”
“A show staged with 50 people just can’t happen here,” she says. But she knows we can’t simply ignore the past. “There’s a line in Anna that we have to walk in the footsteps of those who came before us.”
She’s doing just that, but she’s also blazing a trail that will be a beacon to those encouraged by her brilliance – on stage and in life.