‘If I told you this happened and you hadn’t seen it, you wouldn’t have believed me, would you,” asks Loukmaan Adams with a huge grin.
We are in the Baxter Theatre complex’s restaurant, having just been rescued by the front of house manager from an excited mob of teenagers.
The Lavender High School pupils had come to watch Thando Doni’s Passage, but couldn’t help themselves when they noticed Adams on the Baxter’s balcony.
At first it was just a few, politely waiting to get a photo with their idol. Then it all just snowballed.
“Vanaand gaan ek nie slaap ’ie,” one girl exhales excitedly to her friends. On the other side of the table teens are frantically trading cellphones and digging into bags for pens, because they want an autograph.
Adams uses the newly minted flyers for My Wonderyears (which is actually what the front of house manager came looking for, if she was being honest).
This new production has its roots in a show Adams started with Keenan Arrison and Munier Dullisear, though this forthcoming Baxter version has been completely reworked with director Kim Cloete.
While the first iteration was more about the nostalgia which connected three friends who grew up playing similar games and watching the same tv shows and how they now related to each other as adults, the new production concentrates more on Adams himself.
Loukmaan’s professional stage career started at age nine when he was cast in the first (1987) production of District Six, playing the role of a child newspaper vendor.
He auditioned for David Kramer and Taliep Petersen on the same stage where he now cast the role of his younger self for My Wonderyears.
In young Ryan Jones and Caleb Rodgers he saw the same raw talent he showed, back when the only song he knew how to sing properly was the traditional Cape Malay wedding song, Rosa (and he alternated his District Six role with Jody Abrams).
In My Wonderyears he talks to his younger self, about the stuff he missed out on, but also what he gained, when he first started performing.
“Kim (Cloete) was very much ‘bare you soul, be honest’. I am used to performing in productions with people around me. This time around she said ‘listen, it’s fine, tell your own story’.
“Everyone has their own perception of who they think I am and in this industry you have to put on that face for the audience and show the beautiful pictures. It’s expected here, that everything is just bliss and rosy,” he said, gesturing broadly at the theatre buidling.
“So for the first time I’m opening up and saying it’s not as wonderful as it seems. There’s no room for apology in this industry. Some- times I feel owned by it and sometimes I feel that it owes me.
“Everyone knows about the productions I’ve done and the awards, but they don’t know about how it affected me as a child, about having all of that thrown at you and you’re not quite sure how to handle it firstly, and the value of it.
“Now I can say I have a Laurence Olivier award and people go: ‘Wow, really?’
“At the time, when I said it to my friends, they were: “Dude, are we going to go clubbing? What’s the deal? We’re happy for Laurence, whoever he is’.”
Even before that, Adams was already realising his life was very different to that of his friends: “As a nine-year-old, being exposed to travelling, seeing stuff in London that was happening in South Africa, I saw more over there that was happening over here and I was like, ‘am I staying in the same country?’
“I came back at age 10 and asked: ‘Guys, do you know what’s happening in the country?’ and they said: ‘Are you going to las for a gatsby?’”
He admits the thought of retiring and living a normal life has occurred to him more than once, but the question then became “what is normal?”
My Wonderyears also references the ’90s tv series, and he sings the theme song as well as the songs he sang during the ’90s and what he heard in the ’80s, so it is a bit of a period piece.
In his monologues he talks about how difficult it is to find a moment of sanity amid the craziness of being recognised in public. Like, if he doesn’t greet a fan who happens to walk past him in a mall, suddenly he is being called rude on Twitter.
“People think that you’re the person you are on stage, or they’ll quote a line from a show that you did and expect you to say the next line.
“I think they get caught up in the moment.”
At the beginning of the show, older Loukmaan asks his younger stage self: “Are you sure you want to do this?
“If you do this, your life is going to change. ‘You’re not going to speak the same, you’re not going to have the same friends.’
“And then I take him on this journey, if he should do this audition, this is what happens.
“He battles because he gets pulled into it by the places I talk about, but then he also questions how I can be him because I made some silly decisions, I lost my best friends I grew up with because I never saw them again, spoke differently, looked at the world differently.”
All he has to do is spend any time with his daughter though, and he knows he would not have made different choices.
Still, what keeps him on stage?
“It’s that thing where you stand on stage and people say, ‘we’re moved, you touched us’.
“There are those elements everyone can relate to and if you can tap into that people go, ‘aaaaaah, that was nice’.
“If you’re doing that, or you’re getting that sort of feedback, you know you’re doing something right.”
On the downside, you get used to people always leaving.
“We work for three months on a production and people clap hands and smile and two hours later, guess what, it’s an empty theatre.
“If you travel anywhere in the world, you get used to people leaving, you’re always leaving, and it’s one of thoese things.”
The harsh reality of working with different companies and productions is you never know when you will meet those people whom you’ve bonded intensely with, ever again: “You have to get really used to cutting off, quickly, and that affects your life.”
• My Wonderyears features at the Baxter Concert Hall from April 5 to 12 at 8.15pm with an extra performance on April 12 at noon.