News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday June 26th 2019

When the threads are fraying

Sandra Prinsloo in The Sewing Machine at the Baxter Theatre


Time is a great healer, unless the sickness is age. And some wounds will bleed even through their stitches.

The English version of Rachelle Greeff’s hit play Die Naaimasjien has returned to Cape Town and is now showing at the Baxter Theatre after sell out performances at the Edinburgh Festival this August. This moving play is about Magdaleen, 82-years old, sitting in her old-age home preparing to say goodbye to her sewing machine, her constant companion for more than 55 years.

Translated and directed by Hennie van Greunen, it is a play rooted deep in South African context: in Magdaleen’s life as a white farmer’s wife during apartheid. But it does not set out to deal with South Africa’s troubled history by exemplifying her life or opinions. It is instead a play about old age and loneliness. Through Magdaleen’s personal past we see what it was to be a wife and mother, what it is to be a woman, and to be elderly.

The audience is encouraged in the intimacy of the darkened auditorium to gather round by her ankles and listen to her life, her monologue interrupted by the recorded voices of her memory.

Her constant talk and story-telling are directed sometimes at her sewing machine, but also to the audience (whom she seems ever aware of, but never comforted by), and serves as much to fill the silence that now surrounds her as it does to inform us. She talks of the rarity and reluctance of phone calls from her family and of her fears about her health while she lovingingly oils her Bernina sewing machine and moves stiffly and slowly around the room; an old woman in a new world, “an artifact without a museum”.

Her sewing machine symbolises the only real freedom she felt as a woman, “behind it I am boss, no one tells me what to do”, and with it she clothed herself and her three children. Its whirring like a heartbeat, she unstitched the tight seams of a patriarchal life. And it represents her closeness to her son, the boy who loved to sew, and for whom she suffered an apartheid of the heart.

As the play closes she clips her darling sewing machine into its coffin-like wooden box, about to send it on to a new life “you have to travel light, especially over the last few miles” and implores god to take her swiftly.

There are times when the script is maybe too explicit, too willing to give information that might be inferred better by a silence. But Magdaleen’s humour and Sandra Prinsloo’s brilliant performance surpass these moments.

A play well worth seeing, The Sewing Machine will be showing on at Baxter Studio until November 10. Bookings are through Computicket and further information can be found at – Katie de Klee

Tags: Baxter Theatre, Die Naaimasjien, Hennie van Greunen, Rachelle Greeff, The Sewing Machine

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