Unmatched courage stirs activists

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TO Alison_133 Quintin Mills Photography CHALLENGING MATERIAL: Zak Hendrikz and Suanne Braun in rehearsal.

IT’S THE right time, believe two women, as they talk about the birth of I Have Life. Alison, 20 Years On, the stage adaptation of I Have Life, Alison’s Journey, which is at the centre of Auto and General Sandton Theatre on the Square and proprietor Daphne Kuhn’s Women’s Festival this month.

“It started with me,” says Suanne Braun who returns to South Africa every few years to perform on stage.

Her last appearance was in Private Lives in 2004 and she’s been looking ever since. Her parents still live here and she returns regularly for visits and with her other South African connection, her husband, the son of actor Rex Garner, they won’t let go that easily.

Teaming up with director/writer Maralin Vanrenen also came naturally because they have worked together often and always maintained contact. It was one of these meetings that sparked this current collaboration.

“I was telling Maralin about the amazing book which had had such an impact on me, I wanted to turn it into a movie,” she says.

The book was Alison’s story. That didn’t happen and yet, she couldn’t let the story go.

“It feels so important,” she says.

These things happen according to certain rhythms and she knows now, that this is the right time.

Most South Africans will connect the name “Alison” to a vicious rape and a naked woman standing in the middle of the road with her throat slit. It’s her story of inspiration that made such an impact and keeps reminding people that there’s always hope. Some do get away to tell their story. And some like Alison make it their life’s mission to change the world because of what happened to her one horrific night.

Vanrenen was tasked to write the script and from the start she reacted extremely visually to the story.

“I could see the start almost immediately,” she says.

She also found a way into the story, which was perhaps the key to allowing this tale to unfold.

“As Suanne was telling the story, I could see the story,” she says.

And that’s the way it’s been for these two strong woman tackling a tough journey. But they’ve already cleared one of the toughest hurdles, and that was Alison’s reaction to the way they’re telling her story.

“She came to see it last week,” says Braun, which meant they could ask her questions and get her reaction to certain things. “She will be coming to the official opening night on Woman’s Day,” says Braun.

Considering how difficult it is to get a play onto the stage, anywhere, Braun is proud that she was so determined and stubborn. But that’s what you need: “Every time Maralin and I have jumped, standing right on that edge, it’s worked,” she says.

It’s rare that all the pieces fit this neatly, but that’s what happened and for these two women – Vanrenen who’s wanted to start the Woman’s Festival for a few years – and Braun who knows she can make a difference as a role model and a voice that might be heard more clearly.

But they knew what they were attempting was a hectic story. Even as we recall the horrific tale of the 27-year-old who was left for dead after a brutal rape, 20 years later, life goes on and the violence and abuse of women has not abated. That’s why this powerful story is such an important one for these two activists.

They want audiences to under-stand what happens in our society and why this kind of violence is still part of our society.

They’ve put together a perfect cast, they believe, and have extra time for rehearsals so that they could really work with the script. And it was Vanrenen’s decision how to play it.

“It took me months to do the writing,” she says.

It was all about structure and taking the storytelling from the book’s pages so that it would come alive on stage.

“It’s not a linear story,” she says, that would have been too relentless. But they also didn’t want to shy away from the brutality of what happened.

“The inspiration of this amazing woman is the beacon,” says Vanrenen. But she believes they have birthed the play, and that was her one worry. “It has to feel real.”

Vanrenen says: “If we can encourage men and women that the choice is theirs to change this spiral of abuse towards women and children, and if we can encourage the authorities to apply the most stringent of rules before they even think of releasing criminals like these back into society, we will have moved mountains. It can be done.”

• I Have Life. Alison, 20 Years On with Clayton Boyd, Zac Hendrikz, Shaleen Tobin and David de Beer joining Suanne Braun on stage. Tomorrow until August 30.


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