Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: The Mechanicals (Page 1 of 2)

Why I am lucky – an improviser’s note

I love what I do, and I get to do it a lot. Most weeks, twice a week I get to improvise live in front of an audience. Sometimes I emcee a show and sometimes I play. Both of those jobs are completely ace. Last night’s show is a case in point. It is a love story on so many levels. Here’s what happened, and who and how I loved.

Last night we did something a little different from our regular Tuesday short form improv show at The Kalk Bay Theatre. We did what we came to call a ‘half and half’. Half the show was dedicated to some fun short form games. Then, after a tiny interval to reset the stage, we did a 25 minute long homage to Chekhov. I emceed the short form games and directed the Chekhov, giving me a brilliant opportunity to kick back and watch the magic happen from the sidelines. I was particularly invested in the Chekhov piece, after seeing 3 beautiful examples of Chekhov by The Mechanicals in the last two weeks, and also because I had run a short workshop on the themes and styles of Chekhov; adapting them to an improv situation. I promised the improvisers that I would intervene where necessary, to guide the piece, but I didn’t. Not once. It all unfolded absolutely beautifully, hilariously, confidently and touchingly and all I had to do was watch. I loved each and every member of the team and was glowingly proud of them.

But before that. The short form games. When I saw the three gorgeous pre-teen boys and a mum coming into the theatre I was delighted that we were doing a first half of short games that the boys would love. And when I came out in front of the audience for the first time and there were quite a lot of ‘never-seen-improv-before’ members, and I was pleased to take them through short form before the long form. The cast did not disappoint. Each game was delicious, culminating in an Opera called The Finger Puppets of Geometry. Yes. Our audience was in raptures. And I loved them back. They were perfectly primed for the completely made-up Chekhov, which they loved.

There was a lot of love going around. After the show I had a glass of wine at the bar with a big table of fans. They were also half and half; half veterans who had seen us before, and half first timers. They could hardly believe that we had made it all up, but what sold them on the idea was that we had taken up some of the strange suggestions from them. This was proof that we weren’t faking it.

I left, into the rain and cold with the biggest, warmest grin. Full of improv love. And, I get to do it twice next week, and then begin to teach it, in our brand new improv training course starting next Thursday. Lots more love. Keep up to date on our ImproGuise website for news, info about performances, courses and our 15 hour improvised Soap-A-Thon in October.

Chekhov makes me go back on my word (it is that good)

I know. I know what I said about writing ‘review’ style posts on meganshead. I know I made a declaration about how I wouldn’t, but I have to. I am compelled to write about last night because I don’t know how else to let you know how special Die Kersieboord, by The Mechanicals, is.

It was absolutely icy, and totally wet last night, the second night of the first Chekhov offering (The Cherry Orchard in Afrikaans) that The Mechanicals are doing, in rep with the double bill of The Bear and The Proposal. To be honest, the last thing I felt like was dragging my sorry arse outside, away from the fire and warm dogs. But I am so completely glad I did.

Sandra Temmingh directs this gorgeous translation, with an ensemble cast that are stunning. Every single one of them are so perfect and gorgeous that I feel bad selecting Oscar Petersen out, but he does have the most mind blowing moment of the show.

It runs for an hour and twenty minutes (short for Chekhov). I last saw the original, unabridged version over twenty years ago. My Afrikaans is nowhere near fluent so I am not sure how much is completely different from that version, but this is the new, improved one for sure, and it makes for the most riveting, moving, entertaining, satisfying and delightful theatre.

But there is more. Somehow, Sandra and her cast have turned this production into the most relevant piece of theatre for South Africa (white South Africans in particular) and the connections are direct and totally electrifying. It is a massive achievement. It is not commentary, or satire, or protest. It is a gentle, horrifying and hilarious story of loss and change and human ridiculousness. It is beautiful and I urge you to go and see it.

Die Kersieboord runs 6 – 17 Aug and 28 – 31 August Tuesday – Saturday at 20:00
The Proposal (20:00) and The Bear (21:15) run Tuesday to Sunday 22 – 27 August and 1 – 12 September.

As a side note, we will be performing a long form, Chekhov style improv show on Tuesday 27 August at The Kalk Bay Theatre called Chekhov’s Women, in honour of Women’s Month.

Creepy, darkly funny Murderer

It’s true I often heard the sound of just me laughing last night at The Mechanicals’ opening of Murderer at The Intimate. I do find weird things funny. Like a huge chainsaw being fetched from the back wall. And the sight of really skinny Norman (the amazing Carel Nel) having to move double his own body weight. But those things are just me.

Murderer by British playwright Anthony Shaffer, directed by Chris Weare, with Carel Nel, Nandi Horak, Dorian Burstein and Emily Child is a seriously odd and off-the-wall piece of ‘straight theatre’ that takes you to a dark place pretty quickly and leaves you there as things get worse.

I think it’s difficult to get a live theatre audience to have the kind of creeps they get in movies. It’s even harder when the characters are such a miserable bunch of unlikeables, but that is the success of Murderer. We might not like any of them but they can freak us out big time. Carel Nel as Norman, and Emily Child as his wife Elizabeth, are my favourites, taking the freaking to a whole new level.

I also loved the use of The Intimate (people are coming up with genius ways to interpret the space), the brilliant mix-n-match real and drawn set and very effective sound and lighting needed to create the atmosphere.

I think this play is going to get better and creepier as it goes along. If you love CSI this is better. If you’re a horror and thriller junkie with murder mystery in your blood, this live theatre version will do it for you. Otherwise you might just find it deeply, darkly funny in a revolting kind of way, which is also good.

Lovely Lovborg’s Women

Clever Astrid Stark decided to celebrate her birthday with a block booking for the return of The Mechanicals‘ production of Lovborg’s Women at The Intimate last night. What a great idea, I thought.

This incarnation of the play (I saw one years ago with Gaetan Schmidt, Allan Committee, Robyn Scott) also directed by Chris Weare, is up to date, sexy and completely hilarious. Mikkie-Dene LeRoux, Andrew Laubscher, Tinarie van Wyk Loots and Adrian Collins are the four who race us though the different genres and interpretations of Lovberg’s (the fictitious playwright’s) women. It is hilarious, cheeky and delicious.

It’s a bit like watching a brilliantly inspired, well rehearsed TheatreSports show; with all the madness of send up done with amazing commitment, music and costumes. And it is total, great fun. My favourite was the Third World Bunfight send-up. Classic.

This is a re-run, for all of us who missed it the first time around, and it’s a great opportunity to get into a theatre for brilliant performances, and team work, tightly directed and a completely satisfying laugh out loud.

Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey

photo by Jesse Kramer

When we got home and Big Friendly walked back up the stairs last night he stated quite firmly,”Now that’s theatre. That wasn’t the usual kak we go and see.” When we got inside he was still excited and his brain was full and he couldn’t go straight to bed.

We had gone to the second opening night of The Mechanical’s offering of Die Rebellie of Lafras Verwey at The Intimate Theatre. (On Monday, at TheatreSports class I had cursed their bits of set hanging from the ceiling!) This is The Mechanicals first foray into Afrikaans and it is a total, out and out success.

I don’t know the play, written by Chris Barnard in the 1960s. I understand that it was written as a radio play.This incarnation is deftly and creatively directed by Albert Maritz. He has done an awesome and convincing job. Only afterwards, when I was talking and listening to some of the audience conversation did I realise how bold he had been in his interpretation (not having seen the play meant I didn’t know the difference).

It’s all about this mild mannered civil servant, Lafras Verwey, who has a deep, complicated, violent inner life, which plays itself out in a dangerous and tragic way when it gets confused with reality. Afrikaans Kafka! Carel Nel is Lafras Verwey and he gives the performance of a lifetime. I could not take my eyes off him for a single moment. From the very first word and movement he created a complicated, fraught, neurotic, charming and hysterical man and he did not falter in this for even an eyelash twitch.

Nandi Horak and the rest of the cast (Stian Bam, Wilhelm van der Walt, Roxanne Blaise, De Klerk Oelofse and Tinarie van Wyk Loots) offer intense and creative support for Carel through this mammoth journey. This is ensemble work at its strongest and most effective.

The set is a magical masterpiece of found stuff, creating a 1960’s Brazil (the movie) influenced soundstage, with bits of South Africa’s weird civil servant past, like those funny metal filing cabinets and a teeny typewriter and those stamps and ink pads, and fantastic bicycle junk, and sad shelves with sad home stuff. It’s a busy, complicated mix of fantasy and reality. The lighting, by Guy De Lancey, is phenomenal. Outside light shines in through the side window and door. Little lights in interesting places are eerie. Sound and light cues are timed and mixed and juxtaposed to create a weirdly unsettled feeling.

What I missed (bits and pieces and words here and there) was made up for in feeling. This is an exciting, riveting and beautiful production. Don’t be scared if your Afrikaans is not totally up to par; you will get it. And the reward of a beautifully directed, deliciously performed piece of theatre is so satisfying.

Directors and Directing impressions

When I was driving home last night I thought about the possibility that I would be the only person who would be writing (in this contradiction of a public and private space that is my blog) a deeply personal account of the extraordinary weekend of directors, directing, performance and conversation that Jay Pather and GIPCA made happen. I must confess to feeling a little overwhelmed. So much had happened, so much had been said, so much had been felt. So I have decided to put down my impressions; things I remember thinking and feeling, in the hope that it will capture some of what it was like to have been there.

In Anton Kreuger’s closing comments he spoke a list of things that he liked and connected with; ideas, thoughts, words. I loved his rambling, almost poetic sensibility and I am going to try and steal it here.

Things I loved, in no particular order. I loved Malcolm Purkey’s opening speech. He is a generous, loving theatre guy and that’s how he made me feel. I loved the fact that a two and a half day intensive experience with a relatively niche topic could be so completely well attended. I loved the gentle, ever present hand of organiser, conceptualiser and curator of the event Jay Pather, who followed every single moment. I loved the support people expressed for each other’s work; there is so little opportunity for that in real life. I loved Marianne Thamm; she is so brave, and clever, and clear. I loved our strange and passionate discussion at Kauai over lunch. I loved Nicola Hanekom’s reinterpretation of Boesman en Lena. That chick has balls the size of coconuts. I loved Chuma Sopotela in Aubrey Sekhabi’s version. I loved Zingi Mkefa’s whimsy and voice. I loved Amy Jephta’s well prepared note which was so much about the work and so little about the “I”, and I loved why and how she got pissed off. I loved Chris Weare’s interjections and observations that are all about his passion and clarity and cleverness. I loved how funny Janni Younge was; I had no idea! I loved Pusetso Thibedi’s production Capturing Sanity and his personal ease and charm. I loved hooking up with old friends and sharing in the stuff of theatre making. I loved the catering, the organisation, the team of production people that gave their work such gorgeous value. I especially loved how some of the participants, who were only in the limelight for a very short time, sat through the whole weekend. I loved Liz Mills, Jay Pather, Brent Meersman and Caroline Calburn who were excellent chairs.

Things I did not love; in no particular order. I was bored by how long it took most people to ask a question. I found it almost impossible to go from the beginning of what they were saying to the end with any idea of where they were going or why if you know what I mean and could you respond to that please? I was left unmoved by clever and affected cynicism in both participants and delegates. I just don’t get that choice. I was irritated with the hypocrisy of many directors and actors who never support each other’s work. I was cross with how many director people and actor people and theatre people still chain smoke. I was disgusted by what they did with their stompies. I was irritated by Mwenya Kabwe’s self-appointed watch dog status as external, black, gender specialist critic. I was blown away by Nicholas Ellenbogen’s dof ignorance that in a moment managed to cause such ructions. I was offended by the remark that was made and then repeated that there are no script writers or playwrights in South Africa. There are. I am one of them. We have no idea where to take our scripts once they are written, or what to do with them. I was a little emotional that Zabalaza and Thami Mbongo didn’t really acknowledge that Ikhwezi was started with a desire to do exactly what they are doing now, even though I deeply respect their new vision and energy. I was shocked that many participants came and then left after delivering their input.

There were a few things that I think were overlooked. In the discussion with critics, the much more successful role that the Afrikaans newspapers play in Cape Town in promoting and reviewing theatre was not mentioned. The role of theatre managements and their relationship to directors was not even considered, except by Neil Coppen in a death reference to The Playhouse. The question of patronage was not raised. In all the discussions about colour nobody mentioned that the entire company of The Mechanicals was white.

There was a rumour I picked up that UCT’s Drama department are going to turn the Little Theatre into two black boxes. My heart broke. Obviously, I am utterly convinced that this should not happen. What does everybody else think?

Over and above everything that I thought or continue to think about is what my role as a director is. I was invited to the weekend as that weird thing, ‘media’. I felt like a participant. I identified with directors, performers, writers and teachers. Overwhelmingly I felt like I was there as meganshead. These are interesting labels for me. What am I? I’m not sure there is a simple answer, nor that I even want to go to that analytical place. I work in the role of director. And when I do, I know what kind of director I want to be. I want to have the warmth that we agreed was vital. I want to have brilliant relationships with actors who trust me and who I trust. I want audiences to know how much they are taken into consideration by me when I make work for them. I want to be part of the magical theatre team. I want to feel safe and scared and thrilled and paranoid and hysterical and sleep deprived and concerned and angry. I want to feel.

And that’s what I did this last weekend. I felt. Everything.


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