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Robert Fridjhon seems to be on the cusp of change – in his personal life and on stage.
He recently became engaged and bought a house, and has written his first play, Twitch, which is on stage in Durban and will play in Joburg and Cape Town.
Fridjhon is also in the new farce, Don’t Dress for Dinner, which is at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until April 14. Thereafter it will move to Cape Town.
The synopsis reads: “In a stylish private game lodge somewhere near the Kruger Park, Bernie is hoping to entertain his chic Joburg celebrity mistress, Suzy, for the weekend.
“He has arranged for a cordon bleu cook to furnish gourmet delights, is packing off his wife, Jackie, to her mother’s for the weekend, and has even invited along his best friend Rob as a suitable alibi. It’s foolproof. What can possibly go wrong?”
The fun of these seasons usually lies in the cast and the direction, both of which hold promise.
Fridjhon also had a role in Boeing Boeing, which was the precursor of this play.
In Don’t Dress for Dinner, he joins James Cunningham, who plays the naughty ladies’ man Bernie and his hapless best friend, Rob.
Natasha Sutherland returns to the stage as Jackie, Bernie’s cool, attractive and intimidating wife, and Emily Child is his sexy M-Net presenter mistress. Janna Ramos-Violante plays the spunky Afrikaans chef, Suzette.
Her husband, the slightly sinister George, is played by Nhlakanipho Manqele, winner of Best Male Newcomer 2011 Mercury Durban Theatre Awards.
Both plays are directed by Steven Stead. He’s also the director of Twitch.
Fridjhon is philosophical about his run of comedies.
“It’s the genre I’m probably least comfortable in,” he says.
However, audiences will remember his star turn in Travels with my Aunt, and beg to differ.
Don’t Dress for Dinner is about the ensemble and the audience.
“It’s great to see them enjoy it,” says Fridjhon.
“If I’m tired before a performance, I think of the excitement of theatregoers,” he says.
But he’s also clear that most of the farces we see were written in the 1970s and 1980s, with a tired view of life.
“You have to leave your beliefs at home,” he says.
Twitch germinated out of Fridjhon’s love of nature.
“I love animals, the bush, birds, all of that,” he says.
He was astonished when he heard a famous bird book author complain about birders and that got him thinking.
As with all these pastimes, there are always some who take it a step further. Fridjhon wondered what would happen if four modern birders were trapped in the wild.
It’s been good fun but a strange experience.
Fridjhon did not think he would become a writer. A book perhaps, but not a play.
“I didn’t think I would be good with dialogue,” he says.
There’s a sweetness and shyness about Fridjhon that makes you buy that statement and yet, as someone who deals with words all day, it probably was confidence that was missing.
What he appreciates are the possibilities in a career that depends on others asking you to participate, but where it has become critical to generate your own work.
As the son of an actor, Fridjhon shows little fear.
“There’s no reason why we can’t make a decent living,” he says.
As an old-fashioned guy, Fridjhon did the first draft by hand and he wasn’t sure it would be any good. However, people liked it and it was well received in Durban.
The cast in Gauteng and Cape Town includes Fridjhon’s fiancée, Bronwyn Leigh Gottwald, husband and wife Michael Richard and Louise Saint-Claire, and a return to the stage by Russel Savadier.
“The characters just jumped into my head,” he says. “It was almost as if they wrote it.”
He confesses that it’s a monster of a script because the dialogue keeps running, most of the time in unfinished sentences.
He says about being part of the cast: “No way I want to get that into my head.”
Directing also wasn’t an option.
“I would love to in future, but this is my first one and I thought I should hand it over.”
And while he is not quite the kid (“I was called that for the longest time”) among his father Michael’s contemporaries any longer, he feels he has passed his 15-year apprenticeship and broken the seal on the writing side, which opens all kinds of avenues. He is thinking about television and a book perhaps and already there’s a play rattling around.
Meanwhile, it’s Don’t Dress for Dinner, a Paul Slabolepszy television series, then the premiere of Twitch in Gauteng in June, followed by Cape Town.
That’s quite a dramatic turn.