Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Roy Sargeant

Unconquered by Mary and The Conqueror

My date (a theatre loving actress) and I popped off to Artscape‘s Arena last night for the opening of The New Writing Season’s 2011 first offering, Juliet Jenkin’s Mary and The Conqueror. I am feeling particularly indebted to those involved in this programme because of the support, belief and opportunity they gave my play The Tent, so I really wanted to love this production but I really didn’t.

The premise is; on a beach in some weird waiting afterlife, Mary Renault the author meets one of her historical characters that she was obsessed with, Alexander the Great. This is how they both end up reflecting on the loves of their lives, both same sex relationships. After analysing their lives and accepting some stuff Mary is able to ‘get into the water’ with Alexander and leave.

The cast is Diane Wilson, Adrienne Pearce, Armand Aucamp and Francis Chouler and they are directed by Roy Sargeant.

The big question about this production, and the play itself, is why? What’s the point? No doubt there are answers somewhere but they don’t end up on stage. The interactions between Mary and Alexander drag on repetitively, with her responding in the same way to his questions (and in the same tone) and he refusing to give a straight answer in a weird coughing up of trying to find the words. While both boys are terribly pretty in their little white Speedos (why little white Speedos, I have no idea) we have no real sense of the lives that they lead, and the ups and downs of the relationship between the conqueror and his general ends up feeling a little trite and immature, and mostly, quite boring. It’s hard to follow all the talking about stuff that happened or will happen, but never happens on stage. It’s odd hearing them speak in a funny pseudo Italian accent. It’s awkward watching them pose and swagger, caress and fight. It’s a bit like chaaf chaaf acting, even though they are both very pretty in their little white Speedos (or have I already said that?).

The women fare a little better with a more genuine and earnest exploration of their relationship, but it’s also repetitive, and predictable. Their secret love affair, played out against the background of a conservative Camps Bay community never quite sparks to life after the promise of the first scene, although I really enjoyed Adrienne Pearce’s character and performance.

The moment of the piece for me was Adrienne Pearce in her monologue; slightly different from the style of the rest of the play, where she is shatteringly revealing about becoming ill, and it is deeply moving. We needed many more of these.

Part edutainment/reenactment historical, part secret same gender relationships in a tough time, part how to live with a difficult and ambitious figure, nothing really gets going here. While Alfred Rietmann does a great job of making it look beautiful, it’s all a little pointless and rather dreary. Sorry.

Romping Taming of The Shrew

Last night was my annual trip to the suburban bush, for Shakespeare among the trees. Maynardville is a treasured institution of Cape Town, and, for some, I imagine it’s their only theatrical trip of the year. That’s why it’s important for me that the experience is a good one. It’s Shakespeare, and a bad production can put someone off for good.

I met friends before the show and we picnicked on the lawn. I made sushi and picnic salad pockets (but that’s a discussion for another blog) and we listened to the actors warming up, and then we all filed in to take our seats under the stars. For the last almost ten years I have managed to make sure I was invited to opening night of the yearly Maynardville, but this year there was a double glitch so last night I sat down with Cape Town’s general public. It was a treat. (One of the things I have been really good about is not reading what anyone else thought about the production so I could have a very open mind.) Before the lights went down a young woman behind me told the Wikipedia summary of the story to her quite inebriated and very jolly boyfriend. It was a wonderful summary, for in case the story was difficult to follow, but she had nothing to worry about.

Now, I need to say a few things about the actual play. I can totally take or leave the Taming of the Shrew. No, actually, I would rather just leave it. It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. I have never before seen a successful production of it (I remember a particularly laborious one at Artscape many, many years ago). I think it’s because often the production gets seriously bogged down with the terrible responsibility of trying to manage the sexism and misogyny inherent in the story. Well, the huge success of this production is that it doesn’t take this on! There is a “who cares?” attitude about it that allows it to be silly, comedic and clever without a smidgeon of high horse or excuses. What follows is a story that is clear if not ridiculous, performances that are delicious if not serious, and spectacle that can be enjoyed without any analysis.

Director Roy Sargeant has done a really good job, particularly in these areas: He has cut the script brilliantly. The story skips along and makes total sense, and he has managed to keep all the important bits in. He has taken a concept and style and setting that works really well with the text and has run with it. This makes the production brave and cheeky (although the Seffefrican beginning and end is unnecessary and a bit clumsy) and, from an audience point of view, delightful and accessible. He has not for one moment been bogged down with the issues of the story. It is as if he had a ‘whatever’ attitude. And it works.

The other thing that Roy did brilliantly is the casting. This is a delicious cast. Anthea Thompson and Grant Swanby, the leads, are fabulous. Anthea is brilliant, with her ability to send up, be ironic, really speak the language and give it shtick. She was my nine year old friend’s favourite. And what a relief to see a more mature Kate, giving the story more credbility. Grant is delicious, relaxed, flowing and gorgeous to watch and listen to. Then there is the next tier of characters and actors. I am going to list my favourites, Mark Hoeben is brilliant. Brilliant. I loved every moment of him on stage. Francis Chouler is really, really good. He totally got the character right from the start. Darron Araujo is amazing. He is hilarious and delightful. Adrian Galley is wonderful; easy, warm, funny and great. Nobody was bad. And John Caviggia as the widow was hilarious and mad. Even the teeny, non-speaking parts were well performed, and special mention must be made of the lion puppeteers who were outstanding.

The great thing of having a small(ish) cast is that the production didn’t suffer from the big parts being played by actors who are good at Shakespeare and the smaller ones not managing. With this cast I heard and understood every single word. I can’t tell you how important this is for me.

Dicky Longhurst’s designs are delicious. The Italian circus styling, retro combined with modern cheeky Rome, is sumptuous and gorgeous, and fun to look at. That lion puppet was magnificent. (My only quibble was Richard Lothian’s blue one piece which was his costume from A Circus Side Show. At least make one change to it. It’s mine!). Faheem Bardien’s lighting is awesome. His tent of fairy lights is especially delightful and magical. And the shlocky Italian retro pop pre-show and interval music is my best!

This production offers a non-snobby, totally accessible, fun, beautiful to look at, exciting Shakespeare. If Shakespeare makes you nervous, this is the one to see.

The Return

The Return, written by Fatima Dike, is the last full production mounted by Artscape in this season’s New Writing Programme. Big Friendly and I went last night to the opening and we couldn’t have had two more contrasting reactions.

I really enjoyed it. The play tells the story of Buntu played by Pakamisa Zwedala and his American wife Isis played by Roshina Ratnam, who come to South Africa to meet Buntu’s parents who live in Langa, and to have a traditional wedding ceremony. Veteran actress Nomhle Nkonyeni plays Mama and Sticks Mdidimba plays Tata. The production is directed by Roy Sargeant.

I found the script warm, accessible and easy to relate to. There were no huge surprises here and the characters were all rather typically drawn. Mama and Tata’s relationship was touching and warm, and very funny. Buntu had the required push-pull of America versus African homecoming. But poor Isis really suffered from a character point of view. She was just too shallowly drawn as the inquisitive but respectful American who has to fight for her place in the family saga. Having said that, I enjoyed the warmth of the text, the flow of the story and the uncomplicated depiction of the vaguely dysfunctional family and the love that seeps through and finds a way of making amends. The reveal in the story, which is the circumstances surrounding the younger son’s death, I found a bit trite and clumsy.

There were a couple of things that struck me though. Nomhle is a veteran. An old veteran. She still has it; in chunks, and she is dynamic, charming and entertaining. But she falters. Not so you’d notice, but definitely enough to affect the rhythm of the play. And I thought playing Mama was just a bit too big for her. Don’t get me wrong. She is amazing. I just felt like it was hard for her. And that made it a bit hard for me. Sticks I loved. And Pakamisa. And Roshina, who I think is a fantastic actress.

I do think though, that if you have two oldies on stage like that (and Sticks has a vrot leg) make the set more actor and oldie friendly. Yo, they were up and down the high front and back every five minutes and it felt like such hard work.

I loved Mbulelo Samby‘s choice of music.

As we came down the steep stairs after the show I started getting butterflies. I’m up next and my arse is on the line. I start rehearsing The Tent tomorrow and our showcase performs on the 5 and 6 of December. There. In Artscape’s Arena. I get hysterical just thinking about it.

Wrestling with Wrestlers

Wrestlers FDR 05 Last night was the opening night of the second play in Artscape’s New Writing Programme; Wrestlers written and directed by Milton Schorr. And obviously, I’m writing this because I went (although more than one person jokingly asked if I wasn’t a persona-non-grata).

I’m sitting here with many thoughts racing through my mind, mainly whether I should be writing about this at all. To be honest, what’s definitely given me the confidence to sit down and do it is the support that I’ve been shown by many, many individuals involved in the theatre, way exceeding those who left comments here on meganshead. I also remain convinced that even if I am negative about a show my whole point is to give a show publicity, and create awareness about theatre in Cape Town.

I am going to start by repeating myself a bit. Artscape and Roy Sargeant must be celebrated and supported because of this amazing, pro-active, successful campaign that is the New Writing Programme. It gives writers a real chance to get their work out there (including me! I have benefited enormously from it). Where else can you see a whole season of brand new South African plays? Brilliant.

Now to Wrestlers. Milton Schorr has written a weighty, contemporary South African drama about a wheelchair bound man, his wife, drug addict son, imaginary friend and their addictions and dysfunctional relationships. It’s pretty grim stuff. It’s also pretty universal stuff, dealing with the staggeringly devastating effects of drug addiction and alcohol abuse and dependency. The thing that it isn’t is fun.

What is great about this production are the performances. John (or Pa) is captured extremely convincingly and powerfully by Deon Lotz. Even though he is mostly wheelchair bound his performance is enormous, layered and detailed, creating a complicated and human character. He was mindblowingly good. Jason Potgieter, who plays David his son, is definitely a young, up and coming star of the stage. I really enjoy watching him and every time I see him he grows into a stronger, more focused actor. Travis Snyders plays Buddy, the imaginary friend, superbly. It’s a really difficult role; the character is very young, innocent and, because he is a figment of the imagination, completely two dimensional, yet Travis gives him a heart and lightness that is very moving. Deidre Wolhuter has the difficult task of bringing Lily to life. It’s a bitch of a role and she manages really well. I just found her accent a bit inconsistent.

The problems with this play were ones that I am about to face myself. It’s a tough one, but I think that Milton would have done his text more justice if he had given it to somebody else to direct. He was obviously so close to the material and to the details of the performances that the overall rhythm of the piece was lost, making it feel long and relentless. Now (before I get a letter in my Outlook Express) I must make it clear that I thought aspects of Milton’s direction were excellent. His attention to detail and to the ‘needs’ of his characters were amazing. It’s just that the play struggled to find pace and flow.

A thing that bugged me a bit (aside from the technical horror of the ‘not able to ring’ phone! I know that piece-of-shit-phone from past productions) was the timing of stuff. Because the performances and style were realistic it bugged me that people came and went so quickly without a sense that time had passed.

Wrestlers is a perfect example of what needs to be showcased at the Artscape New Writing Programme. It’s a brand new South African text that needs to be worked on, spoken about, explored, debated. It’s a great place for this text to start its life. I am deeply worried about whether there is an audience for this kind of work though. Go on. Go and see it. Talk about it. Prove my theory wrong that SA audiences can only handle bloody Beauty and the Beast.

*above pic taken by Alfred Rietmann during the final dress rehearsal.

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