Find the perfect dress for every occasion...
In KZN soon to act in Lara Foot’s play Solomon and Marion, Janet Suzman talks about what gets her out of bed in the morning. Theresa Smith caught up with the revered actress.
BEING a famous, award-winning actress cuts both ways. You get sent all sorts of scripts to read. The problem with that is you get sent all sorts of scripts to read.
Just ask Janet Suzman. The celebrated 72-year-old Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire has set aside many a bad script in her time, hence her excitement when Lara Foot sent her Solomon and Marion.
She read it one sunny afternoon, sitting on the porch of her family’s Cape Town home, which overlooks False Bay.
“I got to the last page, which I hardly ever do with plays, because I find them difficult to read. This one was an absolute page-turner.”
Suzman immediately called Foot to say: “When do we start?”
“This was just beautifully written. I think Lara is the most wonderful playwright, and now she turns out to be most wonderful director. I’m having such a good time with her,” said Suzman after rehearsals, when first performing the play two years ago.
Though she has called London home since 1959, she has never completely stopped working in South Africa, adapting Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to a Free State context in the mid-1990s, directing Hamlet at the Baxter in 2007, and conducting a poetry reading in 1980. But the last time she acted on a South African stage was opposite John Kani in 1976, when the Market Theatre opened with The Death of Bessie Smith.
She remains a patron of the Market and speaks fondly of Barney Simon and his impact on the world of theatre.
“It’s a hell of a long time, but it’s gone in a flash,” she says of her acting career, which has spanned a number of continents and formats.
Starting with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962, Suzman has worked her way through Shakespeare’s canon since the 1960s and never totally succumbed to the lure of Hollywood, despite Oscar and Golden Globe nods for her film work.
She’s a published author (Acting With Shakespeare: Three Comedies), a renowned director, and a sought-after voice for radio dramas.
“I remember with a tremendous feeling of delight doing Three Sisters, Hedda Gabler and, of course, Shakespeare. I think the apex of my years at Stratford was Antony and Cleopatra.”
Suzman says she’s attracted to detail. How a play transpires is like any bit of good writing, and the way a play expresses itself lies in the dialogue.
“A play is a very special kind of discipline. It’s not like reading a novel; a novel can expand itself and take its own shape.
“But this play had a kind of integrity to the dialogue that… I just instantly believed it.”
She describes the character she’s playing in Solomon and Marion as an elderly English South African who has fallen on hard times, but still preserves the niceties of social refinement.
Marion lives alone after the tragic murder of her son. Solomon comes to visit because he has a message, and “they get to know each other and he reveals something… he clears the air between them.
“He reveals something terribly important, and that allows them to be friends. He clears away the debris that lies between two people.”
When it comes to who she has drawn on to create Marion, it’s not herself exactly, nor is it someone she knows.
“An actor’s imagination uses what is necessary. Lara said that she heard my voice. That’s enough for us both to go on.”
• Solomon and Marion will be staged at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival from September 13 to 15. It carries a PG rating. Tickets are R170. See www.hiltonfestival. co.za for the full festival programme.
Local director back in KZN with Doubt
IT’S been a year since popular Durban playwright, director and actress Janna Ramos-Violante, relocated to Joburg to expand her career, but home is where the heart is, and she’ll be back in KZN soon to premiere her newest work, Phobic, at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.
IT’S been a year since popular Durban playwright, director and actress Janna Ramos-Violante relocated to Joburg to expand her career, but home is where the heart is, and she’ll be back in KZN soon to premiere her newest work, Phobic, at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.
Being the busy career woman she is, Ramos-Violante will also be performing in Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, for which she also dons the producer’s hat and brings the play to the festival in association with festival organisers.
Ramos-Violante, through her company, Thinskin, also debuts her latest work, Phobic, starring Glen Biederman and Jenna Dunster, at the festival, and she is also directing Darren King and Evan Roberts in WO-MAN, a cabaret show.
Tonight caught up with the wonder woman to find out what she has in store for audiences at the Hilton Festival.
We began with Ramos-Violante’s Phobic (age restriction 15L), which looks at the relationship between an actress and a young agoraphobic writer.
When Annie (Jenna Dunster), a quirky Irish actress, knocks on the door of Greg (Glen Biederman), a young agoraphobic writer, what appears to be the start of a romance turns into a dangerous and provocative story of a damaged man whose fear of leaving the front door pushes all sorts of boundaries.
Commenting on WO-MAN, Ramos-Violante said she and Darren King had talked about doing a “sophisticated cabaret” for years.
“This is a personal cabaret about his life story. Darren asked me to direct it, and we wanted to try something different from what we usually see in a cabaret.”
According to a press release, Doubt is a provocative and gripping story of suspicion and suspense.
Set in 1964, when Sister Aloysius, a rigid Bronx school principal, accuses a progressive and engaging priest, Father Flynn, of having improper relations with a young male student, she inadvertently raises questions that force her to confront the foundation of her own moral certainty.
The play stars Fiona Ramsay, James Alexander, Faniswa Yisa and Ramos-Violante, with direction by James Cuningham. - Latoya Newman
• Doubt will be staged on September 14 and 15 at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival. PG13. Tickets are R155. For the full festival programme, see www.hiltonfestival.co.za
A glance at some of the festival highlights
• Vigil – Morris Panych’s award-winning black comedy, with Graham Hopkins and Vanessa Cooke, directed by Christopher Weare.
• An Unromantic Comedy – a funny, painful and poignant look at contemporary relationships, written by Rosalind Butler, directed by Craig Freimond, and starring Charmaine Weir Smith, Jaci de Villiers and Antony Coleman.
• One Woman Farce – features Louise Saint-Claire, who has teamed up with writer-director Greg Homann. (Homann also directs a bonsai production of the Pirates of Penzance.)
• The List – Leila Henriques directs celebrated South African actress Susan Danford in this award-winning play by Canadian playwright Jennifer Tremblay, produced by the Baxter Theatre.
• The Epicine Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults – Jemma Kahn in an award-winning, hilarious production using the Japanese story-telling art of kamishibai.
• The Line – written and directed by Gina Shmukler; it was nominated in 2013 for five Naledi Awards. Set against the backdrop of the xenophobic attacks of May 2008, the play explores the “fragility of goodness”.
• Christopher Duigan will be presenting his Music Revival Concert Series this year. A free concert by Duigan is also on the programme, and there is also an extensive programme of revues, cabaret and light music for free on the public stages at the festival.
• Full details on www.hiltonfestival.co.za