IT MIGHT sound quite glamorous touring the world with a production with a reputation as remarkable as Ubu and the Truth Commission, but Dawid Minnaar, who plays the title role, says it’s none of that.
“It’s actually quite disruptive,” he says, because these tours don’t always run into one another and it’s difficult to get into any kind of rhythm. In fact, he recently lost his voice during a South American run, which terrified him, but he has since discovered it was probably due to jetlag, because he easily managed the roles of Ubu and Macbeth at the recent National Arts Festival where I caught up with this formidable artist.
It’s also about money. It’s difficult to get work in the short stretches between tours, but that’s the world he lives in and he will cope. He loves the travelling and this year they have already been to São Paolo in Brazil and Bogota in Colombia, which he found fascinating because of the responsive audiences. “They were so engaged and very vocal about the show,” he says. Their political past is still raw and fresh and they were familiar with the kind of abuses they were seeing on stage.
Their third run in Marseilles was cancelled because of a strike and most recently they did a handful of performances at the National Arts Festival.
Minnaar says: “I think we will do it at home but only after the international tour.” This will probably run until the end of next year, which means local seasons will have to wait until 2016. Their next stop is Tapei next month and the Edinburgh Festival. “I’ve been to Avignon twice but never to Edinburgh,” he says. This is also the international stage where many producers do their buying and where they will make a clutch of sales, hopefully.
Fortunately, none of that is Minnaar’s concern. His only decision was to be part of the return season of this magnificent production which showcases not only a great cast, but also the Handspring Puppet Company and their astonishing work together with the artistry of William Kentridge with his running commentary in his signature animation. And with that powerhouse of talent, the quality is not a question. It’s whether it’s the kind of theatre that intrigues you.
The reasons why this second run, almost two decades after the first in 1997, tickled Minnaar were many. “What happens with that memory, that history, are all questions to ponder. The last time Ubu was staged, we were still stuck in the centre of the Truth Commission. How far down the road are we with reconciliation? Just how thin is that veneer of forgetting?”
Having just seen the run at the festival, the effects are dramatic. They will be experienced differently by individuals, but there will be a reaction. “It’s been fun watching the young audiences,” says Minnaar, and there were many at the festival shows. “It makes a difference to see something like this live rather than being told about it,” he says.
He wanted two things before considering this latest run. “I wanted my original Ma Ubu, Busi Zokufa, and I wanted the same staging,” he says. And when he says that, he means even the flick of a hand. “We have very good footage of past performances so I could write down every single move,” he says. And that’s exactly what he did.
He loves working with Zokufa and thinks her performance brings added nuances to his performance and their working together again enhances the richness of performances and production all round. There are new cast members so he welcomed her familiarity.
“I love the script though,” he says, relishing the words he has to speak, written by Jane Taylor. “She has a certain objectivity because of her academic background which also means that she’s well versed in the classics with a rich field of references to her disposal,” he says.
“It’s that classical background which heightens the pompousness of Ubu,” he says as he rubs his hands together at the thought of this villain he has plumped and preened for this production.
“They are the best to play,” he says. But the level of buffoonery and grotesqueness has to be kept real. If not, everything comes tumbling down.
That’s where Minnaar is so good. He likes working inwardly and quite small, so Ubu offers a particular challenge, but this is an actor who steps on stage armed with everything he has. That’s why every performance is so chilling to watch. His work is sometimes underestimated because he seemingly achieves that quality which turns the character into a man. That takes blood, sweat and tears – behind the scenes.
It’s quite eerie how his two biggest recent roles came together at the festival. “Ubu is a kind of Macbeth,” he murmurs. And to see those two performances one after the other shows the mettle of this man. For the moment, he describes his life as a little bit of heaven and hell, with two Ubu sets floating around out there, one somewhere in the East for Asia and Australia, the other somewhere in Europe or North America, for possible tours.
Work is in flux, but with fingers crossed, they will be cherry-picked at Edinburgh. Late September, he has a small part in Marthinus Basson’s Tom Lanois-translated Bloed en Rose for Aardklop and macbeth.slapeloos has a season at Artscape which has to be finalised.
So watch out, anything with Dawid Minnaar’s name attached is worth catching, and make a note somewhere – because it’s some way off – not to miss a season of Ubu and the Truth Commission in 2016.