A slice of SA history brought to life


DIRECTOR: Thomie Holtzhausen

STELLAR PERFORMANCE: Alison Cassels as Emily Hobhouse in Dear Mrs. Steyn. Credit: Anthony Stonier

CAST: Alison Cassels

VENUE: Seabrooke’s Theatre

UNTIL: March 29

RATING: ****

GERMAN philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

After watching Dear Mrs Steyn, I find these words even more true.

Dear Mrs Steyn is currently running at Seabrooke’s Theatre. It stars Alison Cassels and is directed by Thomie Holtzhausen.

The play is a slice of history brought to life on stage. It was originally compiled by Wilna Snyman and Deon Opperman based on letters written by Emily Hobhouse to Rachel Isabella Steyn, the wife of President MT Steyn.

The two women met when Hobhouse visited concentration camps in Bloemfontein during the Anglo-Boer War and became friends. Through Hobhouse’s letters, the audience is taken on a journey through her experiences of the atrocities of the war visited on the Boer community in these concentration camps – particularly women and children.

A combination of sickness, lack of food rations, disease and poor hygiene led to thousands dying in these camps.

As Hobhouse (Cassels) takes the audience on her journeys between South Africa and Britain in her quest to observe conditions in the camps, report them to the British authorities and get assistance for the camp inhabitants, one is drawn into this piece of history on many levels. For one, both Hobhouse and the Boer women’s determination is a reminder of the role that women have played throughout history to effect change.

Another aspect is abuse of authority by, for example, the army generals who ignored the needs of the people in these camps. Or the authorities who embezzled what were supposed to be compensation funds for the Boers.

It’s the age-old case of history repeating itself when it comes to the abuse of power – be it within governments or within the private sector.

Kudos to Alison Cassels for bringing Hobhouse to life on stage. From Hobhouse’s fiery fortitude to her witty humour, Cassels performs with gusto.

A quaint, intimate set, suitably adorned with antique furnishings and period costumes, complement this piece.