Reviews A story of courage and resilience

A story of courage and resilience

In style and some substance this solo theatre performance has much in common with Miracle in Rwuanda: a skilled actor tells a story in the character of a woman in a terrifying situation, a woman whose Christian faith assists in her having the strength to survive three months of hell. It also has similar elements to I Have Life – Alison’s Journey, also adapted by the director from a book about a truly horrific experience.

OK, so horror, terror: this isn’t gonna be a load of laughs, right? Well, there are a few – maybe too few – lighter moments but fundamentally (you should pardon the expression) Woman Alone tells the story of a Cape Town nurse, Dannalene Noach (born in Wuppertal in 1954), who, like many other medical professionals, goes off to earn some real money as a contract worker in Saudi Arabia.

Lee-Ann van Rooi performs in Woman Alone at the Hanger, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Woman Alone is based on the autobiographical novel of Dannelene Roach a South African nurse who was incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

Lee-Ann van Rooi performs in Woman Alone at the Hanger, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Woman Alone is based on the autobiographical novel of Dannelene Roach a South African nurse who was incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

Although she is appalled by the abuse of women that she sees in her work, her professional attitude is appreciated and soon she is promoted to a supervisory position, which leads to her being told by her (male) boss to conduct an audit. He suspects corruption, he says. And that’s when it all goes wrong – soon she finds her timesheets missing (resulting in loss of earnings), next she is suspected of witchcraft, as the invisible, corrupt ones start a campaign against her. Finally she is suspended, and an investigation is held. The judge tells her that he will rule in her favour on 17 November and she will be able to return to Cape Town, where her husband and two children await her.

Her only friend, a devout Muslim, Reem, who stoutly defends her, and who is then victimised herself, goes on television and tells her friend’s story. When Dannelene confronts her, Reem tells her that Allah commanded her to do it.

Needless to say, 17 November comes and goes with no verdict, and eventually Danneline ends up in a military prison, a “hell hole” designed for political prisoners and other dissidents. This is where she is when we first meet her, having survived another brutal rape at the hands of her captors. She is thrown fresh clothes and a bottle of water through a hole. She washes the evidence of her rapists away with water from a bucket. At this stage we do not know what has happened to her but the abuse is clear enough.

It’s not clear why Dannelene is finally released (possibly as the result of the media attention) but it’s really all part of the frightening ordeal – not knowing why, who, and when. I also wanted to know what happened to her friend, Reem. Maybe I missed something.

Lee-Ann van Rooi, who grows in stature as an actor in every production she does, is entirely credible throughout as Dannelene Noach, managing the transitions from pain to hope to anger with consummate skill. Her ability to convey “Danny’s” confrontational attitude towards her captors is typified by a moment in which, having just described the brutality of her abusers, she castigates them for being late with delivering her newspaper! I wanted more of those moments in director Christo Davids’ adaptation. As good as Van Rooi is, the darkness is fairly unrelieved. However, he directs his star well.

Woman Alone is not about Islam vs Christianity; it’s about extreme patriarchy in a non-democratic state. Bravo to Davids and Van Rooi for bringing us Dannelee Noah’s cautionary tale without preaching. See it.

Nigel Vermaas
Cue contributing editor

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