by Leletu Gxuluwe
Cape Town – Retired theatre practitioner and teacher Peter Voges has been nominated for a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts festival on his first attempt as a playwright.
Voges, 79, wrote ‘Henrietta with Love’ after experiencing a racial identity crisis when he was questioned about being coloured.
“A nurse at False Bay asked me what I was, to which I answered ‘coloured’. She then said no, you don’t look like you live in Manenberg, and that got me thinking because she assumed that all coloured people lived in Manenberg.”
The nurse then went on to question him on his accent, claiming that “coloureds do not speak good English”.
That got Voges thinking about doing something that would change people’s perspectives on how they view things, to which he wrote ‘Henrietta with Love’.
The play, which ends its run at The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on Wednesday, was set in Alicedale in Athlone which came about in 1946, and was especially written for Lee-Ann van Rooi in her first leading role.
The play confronts racial issues, traumatic stress disorder or “troubles of the mind”, as well as the sheer volume of emotional turmoil expressed by Van Rooi in her portrayal of Henrietta.
Voges, who suffers from various health problems, including computer vision syndrome and arthritis, wrote the play with a pen, after which Van Rooi typed it out and sent it to Artscape director Marlene le Roux, who helped with the production of the play at the theatre.
He has been treated terribly by many people, but did not let that define who he was.
He said he found comfort and solace through his writing by creating opportunities for many theatre practitioners.
After watching his play at Artscape last year, Voges was left in awe at the work portrayed by Van Rooi, and could not believe that his play had made it.
“When you are in the audience, you feel when the audience is with you, there is an atmosphere.
“They are reacting to the lines. I was told that I spoke the lines throughout.
“I sat there and thought, oh my God, I wrote that, and it was absolutely an amazing feeling,” Voges said.
After hearing about his nomination, Voges was left feeling humbled because he did not expect that kind of reward.
He said he did not do things for accolades or recognition, but to help people by either opening their way of thinking, or by giving them opportunities to better their lives.
He credited Van Rooi and Le Roux for the success that came with the play.
He is currently in the process of producing two new plays, which will explore various issues of abuse, alcohol related problems and other social issues.