Tee is The Rust Cooperative’s first fully Afrikaans show, and my fingers are crossed that playwright and director Philip Rademeyer is planning to do this again and again. The sheer poetic indulgence of watching Tee has completely renewed my love for this language with its explosive, clipped words and rasping consonants. Rademeyer stayed so incredibly faithful to the purity of the language that the words alone could seduce one, regardless of the content. He doesn’t skimp on content though. Serious issues, from unwanted pregnancy to Afrikaner identity to the concept of eternity, come up in the play and are beautifully discussed in uncommon conversation – uncommon words in daily use and an uncommon language for the stage.
The story starts off with a bang as a lone, insecure girl is hurled in through a door into an empty room with no windows and no exit. As the smoke settles around her, she tries to find out where she is and how she got there. Before she has even got her bearings, the door births another woman into the barren room. Although this second woman is more certain of herself and definitely much calmer than her insecure friend, both of them can’t seem to remember much of what happened before the room.
By the time the door brings in a third party, a nervous wreck of a man, the space between the two female charaters, Eva and Hennie (played by Cintaine Schutte and Renata Redelinghuys) has become strained to the point of secrets spontaneously emerging on the surface. Hennie soon finds out that Eva is carrying potential life in her belly and potential death in her handbag, and keeps on provoking her with taunts and uncomfortable questions.
Tee shines a light on the question of male/female relationships, especially in an often male-dominated culture such as the Afrikaner culture. Basjan (Carel Nel) is probably the weakest character of the three, but when his manliness gets challenged he is quick to fall back into oppressive behaviour that borders on violence, thereby only proving himself to be weak yet again.
As the tension rises between the trinity of questioning individuals and the discussions become heated, there is one thing that snaps them back to their current strange reality – an unseen and unknown threat outside. A howling of ghosts or wolves or wind, and collective faded memories of running away from “them” and being rescued by a faceless, nameless man. Rademeyer crafts a beautiful rhythm of tension and release on which to paint machine-gun poetry in explosive conversations.
Tee is an unusual treat, especially if you are supportive of the arts in Afrikaans. If you don’t go see it for the story, which is smartly written and keeps you in suspense until the last minute, and even if you don’t go see it for the skills of three uniquely powerful actors, then go see it for the pure poetry that Rademeyer has created in his mother tongue.
Tee runs at the Intimate Theatre 9 to 13 October and 15 to 19 October 2013, in a double bill with Full Stops on your Face.