Philisiwe and Mpume: The Red Suitcase was produced in Durban in 2016, then acted by Twijnstra and Mpume Mthombeni. Picture: Supplied
For Durban playwright Philisiwe Twijnstra having her play read for an international theatre company is a big deal. 

Now the actress and singer is proudly flying the South African flag in Canada.

Twijnstra has been invited by a Canadian theatre company to be part of the first public reading of her acclaimed play The Red Suitcase.

Performing has always been in her blood. From the age of five, she was entertaining the masses on the streets of Tembisa. “I knew how freeing it was to perform in front of people,” she recounts.

Philisiwe Twijnstra. Picture: Supplied

At the age of 22, she joined the theatre world, but not before graduating from drama school in 2010 at DUT. She then auditioned for, and landed, her first professional role in 2011, in a production called Dossier Odyssee, written by Erik-Ward Geerlings and directed by Paul Knieriem.

Not one to shy away from social ills and the human condition, Twijnstra admits being an actor felt like a restriction of sorts, and that is why she changed gears and headed in a different direction.

“I could not tell stories I yearned for. I needed a challenging script. I wanted to break norms. I wanted control, but I had no control over producers and directors and favouritism. Therefore, I had to find a space that would birth stories that burnt me. I decided to write. I never knew I could write, but I knew I had stories.”

Her honest admission gives some indication of the fickle world of theatre, but still this didn’t deter her from writing her own story, using a narrative she felt comfortable with. “I had loud characters in my head that wanted to come out! I wanted to tell stories that related to my reality, and my surroundings,” she says.

This could be the reason why The Red Suitcase resonates with its audience, and why it was chosen by two directors from Canada’s Zee Zee Theatre who saw the presentation in Cape Town during the Cradle of Creativity Festival last year.

On the surface, the play is a story about two estranged people who are unaware of the unresolved conflict they have concerning the same man.

And then there are the layers: “Women can be as wild and as dangerous as a lion, and as pure and kind as a dove,” adds Twijnstra.

“But society has stipulated standards and aligned definitions for a woman to be regarded as a sponge, too soft and too kind, not realising that there is a breaking point, even for us.”

At its core, The Red Suitcase “deals with a past in a present day for a better future, hopefully”.

She relays it as a lesson of sorts: “It helps us understand what it means to be human, and what it could mean to be angry and abused.”

So, what does a public reading of a play entail? Twijnstra explains that there are different kinds of reading. It might be for the development of a play or to see if it resonates with a particular audience.

“This is a great step for me as a playwright. It means I am doing something of importance, but it’s also great for the Canadian audience to see what playwrights in South Africa write about,” she enthuses.

Performer, singer, playwright, mother and wife. Sometimes the lines can become blurred.

“I wake up with different goals every day. Sometimes I just want to be a mom and a wife and sometimes I want to perform, write, direct and sing. Tomorrow, it’s something else,” confesses Twijnstra. But when it comes to finding her happy place, home is where her heart is.

She also has a busy year ahead. In June she’ll be heading to Germany for Festival Theaterformen, and then teases that some more short stories and plays are in the pipeline. “And sometime this year I’m hoping to direct one of my plays. We’ll see.”

Watch this space, because Philisiwe Twijnstra is on a creative roll, and she’s taking us along for the ride.