by Karien Sinclair
"When the stars line up
And you catch a break
People think you’re lucky
But you know it’s grace
It can happen so fast
Or a little bit late
Timing is everything."
I could not agree with Garrett Hedlund more.
Let’s be honest. The odds of the late South African Gisela Ullyatt’s book of poetry Die Waarheid oor Duiwe (The Truth About Doves) being successfully showcased in Melbourne should have been one against ten, right?
I have, however, forever believed the universe to be one being. Everything and everyone are interconnected through an invisible web of stories. We are all in a silent conversation — right down to the queen ant and her soldiers. And so it was with Die Waarheid Oor Duiwe.
When Marli van der Bijl, Lieze Swart and I went on stage with this musical show on Thursday 10 March at Gasworks Arts Park, the interconnectedness of it all hit home hard: First there was the chance meeting of Gisela and I — in a random city, in a different country, in a previous century. Fifteen years later, after my relocation from South Africa to Australia there was the knowledge of the numerous accolades garnered by Gisela’s debut book of poetry, Die Waarheid Oor Duiwe.
Shortly after she died early one August morning in 2020, her magic dove turned up at my window in Warrnambool — as another random Gisela was being interviewed on Radio National — urging me to take Gisela Ullyatt’s words and give them wings.
So, I started wading through the poems and heard Gisela’s voice, and more importantly, music, as I went along. I wanted to do something in honour of the quiet, introverted footprints she left behind. Music was being born, but was the timing right for it to be shared with the world.
Crack into action.
I knew no Afrikaans speaking soprano in Australia, so I enquired on my socials. At the very moment that I was resolved to press the delete button (and drop the whole idea) because there was no meaningful response to my request, Marli was scrolling through Facebook and put up her hand.
Turns out we lived in the same South African city at the same time! We got together and a couple of months later wanted to stage the by then fully workshopped show on the first anniversary of Gisela’s death, but COVID-19 would not have that.
In December that same year we were finally on stage in Warrnambool’s Mozart Hall — well timed between lockdowns. After favourable reviews the decision to put the show on in Melbourne, to a wider audience, was easy.
Marli knew Ryan O’Connor and asked him for some logistical advice, never thinking that Someone New Theatre Company would become our producer.
The build-up to 10 March was a fascinating journey. Reflecting, polishing, changing — until Die Waarheid Oor Duiwe became, in its haunting simplicity, an ode to Gisela’s beloved themes of loss, alienation and the frailty of human existence. Sitting on stage at the piano, in blackness, hearing the first soaring notes of the colombe : dove duet, I saw Gisela’s face in the rafters. Smiling down at us.
I’d like to publicly thank a few people who synergized and joined me on this beautiful journey: Tony Ullyatt and Protea Boekhuis Publishers. Marli van der Bijl, Eleanor Donelan, Philip Shaw, Herman Putter, Werner Sinclair, Thomas Partridge, Lieze Swart and Anjali de Beer. And lastly a huge thank you to SNTC Executive Director Ryan O’Connor and Creative Director Joanna Lusty for believing in us. Believing that an Afrikaans production in the heart of Melbourne is indeed possible. Thank you for your enthusiastic support of theatre creators.
"People think I’m lucky
But I know it’s grace."