Theatre review – My name is Ellen Pakkies

2012-05-14 09:46

She went from no one knowing her name, to being labelled a murderer for killing her own son. However after watching the play My Name is Ellen Pakkies I understand why this mother is more than just a victim of the infamous drug crystal meth, better known as tik.

The play features Vinette Ebrahim and Christo Davids who are respectively better known for their roles in the TV soapie 7de Laan as Charmaine Meintjies and her adopted son Errol. They replicate that relationship here too. Only this time it’s much more intense as they enact the true-life drama of Ellen Pakkies and Abie, her tik-addict son.

The play is set in their Lavender Hill home on the Cape Flats, just one of many areas in the Western Cape where the horrendous drug is rife.

Ebrahim and Davids give an inspiring performance from the moment they step on stage. Theirs are inspirational lives from first sight. They live with little but still make a home. Pakkies’ struggle to instil some morals and values in her son is heart-warming.

Sitting there, I felt tears welling in my eyes because I saw my own mother and brother on stage. Just like Abie’s battle with drugs for six years of his life, my younger brother has been fighting an ongoing battle with the same drug for eight years.

I witnessed the familiar fights and struggles my family confront on a daily basis. The pathos hit home much harder than I had anticipated.

The story rocked my core because even though I fight my own demons of having an addict in my family, I saw the hardship my parents and brother face, living with that vile tik.

Ebrahim and Davids deliver a riveting and realistic performance. You don’t feel as though you’re sitting in a theatre but you’re taken right there, next to them in their bare kitchen, to experience the anguish.

The arguments and tears, the disappearance of sentimental valuables and clothing, the hostility and schizophrenic behaviour of an addict become all too familiar.

The play forced me to put myself in my brother’s shoes for the first time. I saw the side of a drug addict no one quite understands. It made me realise that tik is a disease that kills any desire to live a normal life.

Davids plays the role with spellbinding conviction: the inner battles of an addict so dependent on the very thing that kills not only himself, but also the people who love him the most. The unforgiving acts of violence that occur when all one thinks of is finding the means to support his next high are made vivid.

The gripping tale turns the audience so silent you can almost hear the tears falling onto the red carpeted floor. At first I’m annoyed by the few who laugh at the gut-wrenching scenes, then I realise these must be the people who are suffering the most.

The simplistic props complement the story powerfully.

The actors’ performance and understanding of the characters is so intense, you’d still be moved if it were a silent play.

The story is presented in English and Afrikaans and though there’s no age restriction, I’m not sure if it’s suitable for young children due to the violence and vulgar language.

It’s a tale of a pain too many South Africans are battling with, and I hope the right people will get to watch it. Perhaps then we’ll all be moved to start doing something about drugs and how they affect the youth and our future.

» My Name is Ellen Pakkies had a run in Joburg last weekend at the Promusica Theatre, Roodepoort. It will be staged at Die Boer in Durbanville, Cape Town, from July 4 to 8. Book at Computicket

» Follow me on Twitter: @SpeedQueen

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