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Theatre maker raises curtain on class act

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Sunday Morning Poster

You have to take notice when a name pops up on the main festival that might sound unfamiliar.

That’s not going to last much longer, though.

Director Jenine Collocott might be underground at the moment, but not for long.

Her Grahamstown contribution on the main is titled Sunday Morning and was written by her husband Nick Warren (who recently published his first book, Thirty Years in a Turtleneck Sweater).

And it stars the talented James Cuningham (Baobabs Don’t Grow Here and Jutro). After the festival it goes to Cape Town’s intimate Kalk Bay Theatre and in September it runs at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square.

As a student at AFDA where she specialised in directing and writing, Collocott knew once she had qualified that she was especially well trained in creating her own work. Which is what she immediately started doing.

High Diving for those who frequent the festival, was one of the pieces she staged previously.

She knows what kind of theatre she wants to make, and knew she had some of the skills but needed to develop others. “I felt I had all the instinct but none of the technique,” she says.

Influenced by theatre makers such as Helen Iskander and James Cuningham, she was looking for a type of Jacques Lecoq training and honed in on Italian pedagogue Giovanni Fusetti (who is also a gestalt therapist) where she will be completing her third and final semester later this year. “It means I spend six months from October to May in Italy,” she says . It also gives her the language she needs, to make the kind of theatre she wants.

This current piece, Sunday Morning started with a grant from the Goethe-Institut that included rehearsal space at Goethe on Main.

Warren wrote the script, Cuningham came on board and it was all systems go. “It’s amazing to work with such talent,” says Collocott. And having her husband as the playwright also has its advantages. He’s not precious about his script but also knows that it will be respected. “He also has an amazing eye,” she says. And as he has written for theatre before, she trusts her man and his instincts.

This tightly knit group with a quirky design team have come up with what seems something special.

Set somewhere in Joburg like Kensington, a previously smart suburb that has unravelled slightly, a man decides to go on a Sunday jog when his girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant.

It’s a play that deals with male issues and what Collocott enjoyed specifically was the different perspectives from the participants.

The man, in his late thirties, is trying to come to terms with what he feels is the horror of the domestic journey. “It really is unashamedly the story of the South African white male,” says the director.

The words, she says, are truly beautiful, and Cuningham extraordinary. But for her, as director, she had to find the place where the play earned its space. “I wrestled with the script but, luckily wasn’t bound by it.”

She was also dealt something that could really have been radio theatre – easily. Especially, she says, because the words work so well.

But listening to how her mind works, that’s exactly what she has discovered and displays. When making theatre, what’s important to this director is that people watch it – en masse. “Yes, I want the actors and people in the profession, but more than anything I want to tell stories that are seen widely.”

The theatre Collocott wants to make and loves, is extraordinary landscapes with rigorous writing. She doesn’t want the one without the other. And here she’s been blessed with her own in-house writer – someone who loves theatre as much as she does and who gives her the words to play with.

In her recent studies, she has learnt to offer the actor a poetic door in the performance. They should be allowed to react in the moment. If something happens between the audience and the actor, that’s when the extraordinary follows.

Collocott’s working on a proposal about Nelson Mandela’s childhood juxtaposed with the Afrikaner Broederbond. “The two happened at the same time,” says Collocott.

Mandela was born on the day that the Afrikaner Broederbond was established. She’s again had good guidance. And when she showed the first draft to Janice Honeyman, she was pertinent and to the point when asking whether they wanted to tell a story or give a history lesson?

Collocott talks with passion about theatre, which is precisely why her work sounds so appealing.

“We have the luxury of making good theatre. I want to do just that,” she says simply.

• Sunday Morning plays in Grahamstown in The Hangar from July 4 to 7 before a run in Cape Town and Joburg.


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