Maverick Life

Maverick Life

An attempt establish where a writer’s guilt comes from

An attempt establish where a writer’s guilt comes from

The Imagined Land is the tale of an elderly writer stricken with brain cancer and her daughter who has always come second to her writing. A wordy play, it follows the themes of class and guilt and plenty of intelligent verbal sparring that keeps the tension topped up as the characters explore their pasts and their futures. By LESLEY STONES.

It’s not you, it’s me. That hackneyed old line is usually used in breakups, but it kept occurring to me as I watched The Imagined Land at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre.

Fiona Ramsay was playing an elderly writer, sometime lucid, sometimes lost in twisted memories as a tumour ate its way across her brain, disconnecting the connections. Janna Ramos-Violante was playing her daughter, who had always come secondary to her mother’s writings.

Two months ago the same actresses were playing Marlene Dietrich and her daughter in the same theatre, with the same theme of a mother who sacrificed her child in the pursuit of her career. I was mired in déjà vu.

Still, if you didn’t see the Dietrich play then Craig Higginson’s The Imagined Land will be fresh territory for you, and all the better for it.

Here Ramsay plays Bronwyn, a famous white novelist from Zimbabwe now living in Johannesburg and about to have brain surgery. Her daughter Emily, a literary critic in the US, has come home to take care of her. She arrives to find Edward there too, a young black writer eager to produce the biography of the woman whose books changed the course of his life. ??

The set by Denis Hutchinson is cleverly hung with suspended books made to look like birds, as if our words can fly us off to distant lands.

Higginson previously wrote The Girl in the Yellow Dress, a superb play with a challenging, thought-provoking script and witty dialogue that was part thriller, part social commentary and part comedy. That was a high bar to match. With The Imagined Land he’s written a less startling script, although it follows some of the same broad themes of class and guilt.

Lesley Stones The Imagined Land 02

Nat Ramabulana appeared in both these Higginson plays, this time as Edward, the would-be biographer. He develops a sub-plot of his own though, when he reads Bronwyn’s diaries and picks up traces of guilt that he can weave into a damning biography. Another current running through is the tension and attraction between Emily and Edward after a casual shagging at a literary conference a year ago.

It’s a wordy play with plenty of intelligent verbal sparring, and director Malcolm Purkey keeps the tension topped up as the characters explore their pasts and their futures.

There’s no great love between the mother and daughter, but Ramsay and Ramos-Violante nicely convey a shared affection in some tender gestures. In the scenes between Emily and Edward, I felt Ramabulana didn’t express enough attraction towards her to fuel her interest. But maybe that was a deliberate action, because by then we’d already established that Emily had a thing for men who treat her badly anyhow.

There’s an interesting theme of trying to establish where the source of a writer’s guilt comes from, excellent acting all round and several nicely dramatic clashes along the way. Then a rather abrupt ending as white guilt suddenly becomes black guilt and reconciliation looks imminent as the curtain closes.

The Imagined Land runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until

September?12. DM

Tickets from the box office on 011-883-8606,?or


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