Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Daniel Galloway

Spring Awakening

It was weird for me last night, going to the opening of UCT’s production of Spring Awakening. I was in Chris Weare’s production in 1984! And although I couldn’t even remember my character’s name, I have such clear memories of the little green and pink and white checked dress I wore, and the white bobby socks and little black shoes. Freaky. Seeing the programme up on the pin board was scary too. There were people in that cast that I don’t remember at all, but pictures of Patrick Lilley, Claire Berlein, Ingrid Emslie and Michelle Constant took me straight back 26 years ago, to that time.

Watching the play from this perspective made me understand how difficult a production it is to mount. Spring Awakening, written by Frank Wedekind, is set in Germany at the end of the 19th century, predating what would happen there by fifty or so years, but creating the platform for it in terms of repression, shame, education, parental control and unrealistic expectation. These are huge issues. Because of the sexual and, for the time, explicit nature of the content and scenes, the play was often banned. These days we are all too used to seeing young men masturbating on stage, boy on boy kissing, and nudity and sex have become terribly explicit. So, the real issue of the play, the bursting of puberty and the shame it brings in a repressive society, are a fantasy idea for most of this young cast. Especially in a country with unbelievably high teenage pregnancy and horrific and brutal child abuse stats, child prostitutes, peer sexual violence among children, the sexual innocence of Spring Awakening is very dated and diluted.

One of the other difficulties with this play is, however tempting it is as a drama school production because there are lots of parts for young actors, it is unbelievably difficult for young, inexperienced actors to sustain! I remember Chris Weare’s frustration our time around! The parts are either children, always hideous and difficult to play, parents, who for young actors are not the best fun, or teachers, who at least can be sent up in this play, but are not well developed people and have to remain within their names of Professors Breakneck, Tongue Twister, Total Loss and Strychnine.

Then there is the script itself, which is scenic and cinematic, jumping from one scene to the next, and from location to location. Unfortunately, over the years, we are less able as an audience to manage such long scenes, and for the most part they are very long.

Those are the problems up front. Now to this production. This production is in The Little Theatre. The wooden beamed stage is very, very raked and there is a huge raised walkway through the audience, bringing performers on stage from the back of the auditorium. There is an amazing, repetitive, motion cloud projection on the cyclorama at the back. Gideon Lombard sits in mostly silhouette  in the top right hand corner with a guitar and amp. And that sets the scene. The set, designed by Daniel Galloway and Chris Weare is beautiful. Almost as completely beautiful as Daniel’s lighting, which is breathtaking. Leigh Bishop’s costumes are fabulous; an incredible combination of period and theatrical.

The students, for the most part, have really good moments. Rudi Swart, who plays Melchior, was my favourite. He gave a really tempered, interesting and natural performance, and elicited true sympathy from me. Next was Lethabo-Thabo Royds, who had the difficult task of playing Melchior’s mother. She really grew on me. In her first scene I felt like she was fighting with her dress a little bit, but, after that, I found her still, sincere performance the most moving of all. James MacGregor (who I adored as Romeo) was less successful for me as Moritz Stiefel. There is no doubt that it is a hellishly difficult part, but it was just too childish caricature for me. The young girls all had their moments, but I was left with the overall impression that they didn’t ‘get it’, in terms of the overwhelming unnamable stuff they were feeling, and why it was so big, confusing and bad.

So, in a nutshell, this production is a breathtakingly beautiful study of the past. But it is not exciting, moving or challenging. The horror that we sit with, as an audience today, is, is there anything that can shock us, ever again?

Young and fresh Romeo and Juliet

In January 2007 I sat down and wrote my first ever post on this blog about a production of Romeo and Juliet. I did not say good things. So, while I sat in the darkened Little Theatre last night, listening to the music and waiting for the show to begin, I had trepidations. What if it was going to be horrible?

The lights came up and I didn’t think it again. This is a totally cool production! What a relief! And what a good job UCT Drama School.

Jacqui Singer directs this huge cast of students in an absolutely watchable, totally understandable, fast paced, moving, stylish production of one of Shakespeare’s most loved, most put on and most quoted plays. To start with, the director has done a most excellent job of cutting the play. Slashed to ribbons, but with all of the important stuff still there, it was a fast paced, just over two hour Shakespeare. Totally manageable for the students, the public audience (on a stinker of a hot night the Little Theatre aircon was like a gift from the gods) and friends and family of the young cast.

The set, designed by Daniel Galloway, is clever and effective; a series of platforms, balconies and walkways, giving the students an excellent opportunity to be physical and interesting, and allowing for small intimate scenes and huge spectacle ones too. Daniel also designed the lights, which looked great.

The costumes, by Leigh Bishop were completely amazing. Everybody looked brilliant in an eclectic mix of old, new, soft and flowing, leather, traditional Elizabethan elements, stylish and trendy. I thought that Romeo, Juliet, Lady Capulet, Mercutio and Tybalt (with all those tattoos) looked brilliant, and Nurse’s costume was a highlight.

And now to the students. I have to say I was mostly pretty damn impressed! I think that Jacqui has worked so thoroughly and generously with them and, although some are head and shoulders better than others, they deliver performances that are filled with integrity and energy. They also deliver on character. Yes, some of them spoke too fast or too softly, some of them slammed about or disappeared, but that’s just like any Shakespeare; heavy on very talented leads, and bit parts that aren’t the best. I am going to single out my favourite favourites.

Romeo, played by James MacGregor, is gorgeous. I really loved his performance. He was the most present, unaffected, young love-sincere Romeo I have seen (and I was swept back to my childhood and how deeply in love I was with Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo played by Leonard Whiting. Oh that bum.) MacGregor keeps all his clothes on and still manages to give us a sexy young thing. He is great. Juliet (played by Rosa Whitcher last night) was also fabulous, in a very different way. She captured Juliet’s teenage youth, and her performance was so natural and unaffected. Her balcony scene was excellent. Mercutio, played by Keeran Blessie, was also great. His swish, camp, articulate and passionate interpretation was magnetic. I loved lady Capulet, played last night by Inke Jaroszynski, who was totally convincing as someone so much older. I also loved Benvolio, played by Glen Biederman-Pam, who had brilliant moments in a largely thankless role, and I loved Friar Laurence, played by Malefane Mosuhli, who was intense and genuine and lovely.

But it was the shining performance of Lerato Motshwarako as the nurse that stole my heart. Yo, that chick can mos act hey? She has got it. In chunks. She was the best part of Macbeki last year, and again, here she radiates in a character older than her by about twenty years, who is funny, touching, quaint, old fashioned, human, and just, huge. Bravo Lerato, you are going places. And the best part is, when you leave drama school you’ll get a chance to play those young leads too!

Lest I sound like a sycophant, let me mention the two things that got on my nerves. I got irritated by the blackouts. Every five minutes there was another one. Let’s rather see those changes and have a blackout at the end, especially since the pace is so good with all those cuts. And then there are those goddamn boots. Please UCT Drama School wardrobe, please, get rid of those big black, knee length boots that need to be hidden away and brought out only for Nazis or Woycheck. Firstly, they make an actor’s legs go all funny and they have to take those ridiculous goose stepping strides. Secondly, they are so mind crashingly loud on that wooden stage. Thirdly, they look so poncy and out of place. I hate those boots!

Let me not dwell on silliness. Good sword fighting (although I always like a bit of blood), excellent crowd scenes, and lovely in between scenes music help make this a fab production of R & J. If you see one Shakespeare this year, choose this one.

Yes! Elizabeth: Almost By Chance a Woman

liz What a great way to break the drought of plays. I am a reluctant and stingy standing ovationer but I was quickly up on my feet to applaud the cast, but mainly, Robyn Scott, lead supreme of this fantastic show.

Last night at the Little Theatre was exactly how theatre should be. There was a buzz in the air. The full house of audience came early and ate pies and drank beer (what a cool idea). Then we went inside and saw a brilliant script fantastically executed.

Elizabeth: Almost By Chance a Woman is the most unwieldy title of a delicious comedy written by genius and Nobel prize for Literature winner, playwright Dario Fo. Its subject is Queen Elizabeth, who is completely off her rocker. It is this that helps make this theatrical experience so wonderful. The play’s subject matter is irreverent and completely obscure, yet the brilliant script draws you in and the journey is a theatrical delight.

The supporting cast in this production are great. My favourite was Nicholas Dallas who plays Egerton. He is hilarious. Shirley Johnston has the unbelievably difficult job of playing poor Martha and she does so very well. It is a bit like the teeniest moon orbiting the biggest planet; but that’s what it is. Scott Sparrow in a dress and playing Dame Grosslady is weird and hilarious in turns. I had no idea what he was talking about for most of the time, but even that was very, very funny. Jaco Nothnagel and James MacGregor were also delightful in their small parts.

But, let’s face it, it’s the Robyn Scott show. And she is mind blowing. I don’t know where it comes from, but every nuance, movement, sound, tic, step, gesture, pause, cry, every moment is theatrical magic. She is riveting, hilarious, moving and huge. It is no small feat to pull off a monster of a part like this, and she is totally brilliant.

Chris Weare is in his directorial element here. You can see the fun he had with this one. And Daniel Galloway’s lighting, in the difficult Little Theatre, was really, really good. I also have to mention the costumes by Penny Simpson from Artscape, which were absolutely fabulous.

So, I imagine the long and obscure title is not going to make people run off to book tickets, therefore I am taking on the role of urging, nagging, cajoling and threatening people. Guys, if you miss this one you really will miss out. This is what theatre is all about.

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