Kellerman finds grace in growing old

Gerben Kamper and Antoinette Kellerman in Samsa-masjien.

Gerben Kamper and Antoinette Kellerman in Samsa-masjien.

Published Jan 14, 2015


ANTOINETTE Kellerman describes herself as “very fortunate in the parts I play.”

She has had the luxury of playing a very diverse and a wide spectrum of age groups, and now, almost ready to get herself a pensioner’s card (she turns 63 later this month), Kellerman says she has finally caught up to playing her own age, “which before, never happened”.

Back in 2011 she and Wilna Snyman were nominated in the Best Actress category at the Fleur du Caps, playing two elderly room mates in an old age home, one intent on discovering the secrets the other is hiding, before old age robs them both of the memories.

“It’s quite interesting and it’s wonderful to think, Klaasvakie and Samsa-masjien both deal with a similar sort of situation; how people cope within that world of dementia and change.”

Written by Willem Anker and directed by Jaco Bouwer, Samsa-masjien won a ATKV-Woordveertjie for Drama and the Best Actor, Actress and Director awards when it debuted at the KKNK last year. It also won the Herrie prize, for “mind-shifting” work and Bouwer was honoured for his contribution to new thinking in Afrikaans theatre. Now it comes to the Baxter Theatre, the first of three Afrikaans plays starting their schedule this year.

Samsa-masjien references Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and like the original Gregor, Samsa-masjien’s Gregor is a retired school principal played by Gerben Kamper, suffering from dementia.

Kellerman plays his wife, Josephine, who comes from a very patriarchal and religiously influenced background and suddenly finds herself in a completely new paradigm.

Moving into their daughter’s house, Josephine has to deal with an intergenerational gap, plus her husband’s escalating dementia, and basically a complete redefinition of herself.

“What she loses is actually what she gains,” muses Kellerman about her character. “Freedom. She never had that. She lived in this rigid society with rigid rules and immersed herself in it completely and accepted it as her fate. And then, to be free from that, to be freed by her husband’s dementia, there is a positive dimension to that, even though it is a negative and frightening thing.

“Gregor also creates his own language and world and when she consciously joins it, it’s complete freedom. She becomes a child again, which she never had. She says in the play: ‘Your father could never be a child, maybe now it’s his chance, maybe the child has always been there’. I think maybe that could refer to her as well.”

Kellerman laughingly points out that the submissive, introverted Josephine character is very much not Antoinette: “I think I can be quite forceful and to play against that, and then to go into macbeth.slapeloos afterwards, it’s wonderful to be able to do that.

“It takes you a while, for all actors to discard the skin of one character, to go into two different characters. But, I’m so grateful.”

While Samsa-masjien is very dense and full of double entendres, Marthinus Basson’s Afrikaans Macbeth adaptation is a lyrical work which brings a direct clarity to what is otherwise a very layered tragedy. Kellerman plays several characters in her long-time friend and collaborator Basson’s adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy, as do several of the other actors.

She describes Bouwer and Basson as extremely visual directors: “One thing you often think, ‘I am like a prop within the visual’, but then it disappears because you realise that the prop and the visual, all of that, must come together and become one.”

Both plays are very exacting on a technical level, working with elaborate soundscapes and lighting cues.

“The most important thing with both plays is the ensemble work, and Samsa-masjien having a small cast, we are so dependent on one another. Sometimes because of the technical aspect of both plays, but Samsa-masjien especially, you have to be aware and concentrate all the time on the musical cues, light cues, word cues, because things happen on different levels. You cannot lose focus for a second in this play because then you throw the actors and disturb the rhythm and the music cues go. It’s heavy-going, but I believe that it’s accessible to people.

“People always want to understand everything in a play, but that’s not necessary. It’s an emotional world that you enter and you should just let it happen to you. Disturbing maybe…

“Young people don’t believe they will grow old,” and without physically rolling her eyes, that throaty Kellerman laugh says she is doing it anyway.

• Samsa-masjien runs at the Baxter’s Flipside stage from Friday to January 31 at 8.15pm.

• Marthinus Basson’s macbeth.slapeloos, which is performed in Afrikaans with English surtitles, will run in the Baxter Theatre from February 4 to 21 at 7.30pm.

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