Imagine seeing your children only once a year, or once a month. It used to be common practice in South Africa, for some it still is, to have your domestic servant live in your house or in a tiny little room at the back of the house for the better part of the month or year. She did everything, including raising your children like her own. It was ‘normal’ to see a black woman with a white baby strapped to her back hanging up the washing, or doing the ironing. What she could not do is raise her own children. The job, zeitgeist, and long-distances did not allow that.
Creator and director of A Woman in Waiting, Yaël Farber, aptly describe these women as stoic; “they seemed to have the waiting thread knitted inextricably into the fabric of their souls.” He goes on to say, “women have always been the filters for a society: the vessels through which the pain of a community flows.” A Woman in Waiting tells the story of one such woman, Thembi Mtshali-Jones.
And between this accomplished actress, the director and all the designers of the production, this woman’s heartbreaking story springs to life. Mtshali-Jones has a long and impressive record as television, film and stage actress. And she can sing. Beautifully. She has recorded several albums. She uses all her talents to bring this stoic woman’s story to us. To see her longing for her child as she cares for the madam’s little one is just tragic and indicative of cruel times. The first 50 minutes of the play is mesmerizing. Clever props assist Mtshali-Jones’ storytelling as she herself effortlessly slips in and out of the various characters. She is incredible as she transforms herself into a little girl. It is flawless up to the final few minutes where the story, for me, became a little too self-indulgent. However for the most part, it is a magical piece of theatre making and a provocative story that has to be told and heard. It is beautifully written with great sensitivity and the evocative stage lighting enhances the performance.
A Woman in Waiting is on at the Baxter Theatre until Saturday.