At Her Feet, the acclaimed play by award-winning writer and director Nadia Davids and performed by celebrated theatre, film and television actress Quanita Adams, returns to the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 22 November to 8 December 2018 – for the first time in 14 years.
This is last time that Adams will perform the work, making it an unmissable chance to see the powerful, landmark production in its original form.
Written in 2002, At Her Feet evokes the experiences of four Muslim women in Cape Town whose lives are touched by the events of 9/11 and by the honour killing of a Jordanian girl. The women – a secular student, a tough-talking auntie, a Che Guevara-worshiping slam poet and a recently married religious travel agent – narrate their lives, telling vivid, bitingly funny but deeply moving stories that speak to race, love, faith and belonging.
Through monologue, song and poetry, the women offer the audience an intimate glimpse of their world.
“At Her Feet was born in and out of a moment of global chaos, in those turbulent months after the terrible attacks on New York City and in the horror of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq,” explained Davids, currently an associate professor in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) English literature department.
“I wrote the play as a response to the ways in which Muslim women were being portrayed in the media and the ways their bodies were being turned into ideological battlegrounds. I wanted to make a piece of art that reflected my experience of growing up Muslim in Cape Town – the ordinariness of it, the love, the joys, the difficulties, the complexities – and to write about the women I knew.”
She said none of the women she knew were reflected in these “veiled, mysterious figures who were suddenly everywhere, all the time”.
She and Adams first met in high school, then again at university, and Davids said they knew instinctively that this was a production they wanted to create together.
From its first staging as a student production at UCT’s Arena Theatre, the play has earned glowing reviews. It has been described as “brilliant”, “triumphant”, “unforgettable”, “timely” and “a production that will touch you, shift you and never really leave you”.
Winner of two Fleur du Cap awards (for Best New Director and Best Actress), nominated for a Noma and a Naledi, At Her Feet has travelled throughout southern Africa and has been staged in New York, London and Holland.
“After all these years, [these women’s] stories feel as important, moving, gut-wrenching, urgent, poignant, funny, warm and resonant as ever.”
Davids and Adams believe that the play, written about Cape Town and for Capetonians, will always, at its deepest level, belong to its home town.
“It brings me such joy to be able to bring these women home again. After all these years, their stories feel as important, moving, gut-wrenching, urgent, poignant, funny, warm and resonant as ever,” Adams said.
“I love that I get to work with Nadia again, and that together we get to share this work with Cape Town. The play is very much about our city, our community, but we’ve always been thrilled about how diverse our audiences have always been.
“I’ve never looked out and not seen a multiracial, multigenerational, multicultural audience looking back at me. That’s rare in theatre and rare in Cape Town, and it’s something to be cherished.”
It is exactly this ability to be at once specific and inclusive that moved Professor Njabulo Ndebele, former UCT vice-chancellor, to write of the play: “… An unforgettable theatre experience… Wherever it is seen it will challenge and move without evoking rancour; it will reveal at the same time as it ennobles; it will provoke laughter as it accords respect.
“The play’s ability to work with such contradiction in its special ways places it at the centre of the search for global peace through the kind of transcendence offered by art of the highest order.”
The media and audiences also raved about the production. The Mail & Guardian described it as “a brilliant theatrical achievement”, while the Cape Times said, “Davids and Adams are a triumphant combination”. O Magazine called it “a vivid inner circle view into a sisterhood of contemporary Cape Town women”.
Davids made a return to South African theatre last year with her new work What Remains, directed by Jay Pather. The play, which tells the story of the unexpected discovery of a slave burial ground in Cape Town, debuted at the National Arts Festival. It went on to scoop seven 2017 Fleur du Cap nominations and win five, including Best New Script, Best Director, Best Ensemble and Best Actress.
Adams has recently transitioned from working full-time as an actor into writing for television. The success of her first show, Vinkel & Koljander, has led to a new series currently in the making, The Riviera, based on her own childhood in Lotus River.
Though Davids and Adams now work in and across different creative mediums, theatre continues to hold special significance for both of them.
Davids said At Her Feet gave them both “our first real home in theatre; a place to tell our stories, to see ourselves accurately reflected, to feel directly addressed and seen”.
“The play allowed us to declare loyalties and question allegiances, to ask difficult questions while refusing easy answers.”
“The play allowed us to declare loyalties and question allegiances, to ask difficult questions while refusing easy answers, to seek out what was funny and humane and beautiful in some of the hardest, most unforgiving places.
“It was a profound experience to make the work together back in 2002, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to bring it home after all these years, to reconnect it with its original audience and to introduce it to a new generation of theatregoers,” she said, adding that it was also meaningful to bring the production back to the Baxter, which is something of a homecoming.
The play is studied at a wide range of South African, British and American schools and universities; it is understood as one of the most important theatrical works to emerge around Islamophobia, Muslim women and Islamic feminism post 9/11, and is considered one of South Africaʼs most significant post-apartheid works.
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