Obituary: Reza de Wet: playwright who sought hidden truths - Times LIVE
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Obituary: Reza de Wet: playwright who sought hidden truths

Chris Barron | 2012-02-05 01:15:32.0

REZA de Wet, who has died in Grahamstown at the age of 59, was one of South Africa's most critically acclaimed playwrights.

Her plays, and she wrote nearly 20, won more awards than those of any other playwright in the country, including the most prestigious Afrikaans literary award, the Hertzog Prize, which she won twice.

She wrote mainly in Afrikaans but her plays were also translated into and widely performed in English.

Three were performed in London. One of them, Miracle, was performed at the Leicester Square Theatre in 2010 with British star Susannah York in the lead role.

It was well reviewed, with the London Evening Standard praising De Wet's "stunningly adept" manipulation of familiar dramatic elements "to chill the heart".

Most of her plays had sombre, sinister, gothic undertones with touches of magical realism or, as York, an admirer of her work, put it, the "mysterious and strange". In Missing the only evidence of a character is a disembodied voice coming from a loft from which a bucket of excrement is lowered.

This undoubtedly dark side of De Wet's nature may or may not have had something to do with the fact that she was related, on her mother's side, to the tortured poet, naturalist and morphine addict Eugene Marais, who wrote The Soul of the White Ant and The Soul of the Ape before committing suicide.

It was a side that found expression in her writing, not her everyday life. To those who knew her she displayed an unfailingly sunny disposition and a capacity to see humour in most things. She was always seeing stories in ordinary events and the lives of ordinary people.

Like her favourite playwright, Anton Chekhov, she felt a compulsion to explore these supposedly ordinary events and lives in her work, always probing for hidden undercurrents where she felt the truth usually lay.

De Wet was born in Senekal in the Free State. She was an only child.

Her father was a judge in Bloemfontein. She matriculated at the Hoër Meisieskool Oranje, where her classmates thought her a bit enigmatic.

She excelled in drama and the school has an annual drama festival named after her.

She achieved an MA in English literature through the University of South Africa and taught in the drama department at Rhodes University, where she became a professor, for more than 20 years before retiring in 2007.

She had a very special relationship with her mother. A deeply spiritual person, though not in a formal religious sense, she seemed to inhabit a magical world of her own at times.

She claimed her mother and grandmother often spoke to her from beyond the grave.

She was deeply intuitive and sometimes made uncannily accurate predictions.

After her last play, Die See (The Sea), was performed at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in April last year, and in which she acted for the first time in 20 years, she announced that she had written everything she wanted to write and would not be writing any more.

In late October last year she was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of leukaemia.

In addition to her plays, De Wet wrote a novel called Heathcliff Goes Home, in which she explores the life of Emily Brontë's brooding hero before he arrived at Wuthering Heights.

De Wet is survived by her husband Lindsay Reardon and daughter Nina.


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