TAKING CENTRE STAGE: Dame Janet Suzman and Khayalethu Anthony in Solomon and Marion.
TAKING CENTRE STAGE: Dame Janet Suzman and Khayalethu Anthony in Solomon and Marion.

Khayalethu Anthony has come a long way since winning the chance to audition for a Baxter play in 2011 when he first took part in the Zabalaza Community Theatre Festival, writes Theresa Smith.

Khayalethu Anthony’s first professional acting role was opposite Dame Janet Suzman in Lara Foot’s Solomon and Marion.

He was in Canada at the beginning of the year, where he performed as Soldier Number 2 in Waiting for the Barbarians.

Then he played Military Soldier number 2 on the Joburg set of Justin Chadwick’s film Long Walk to Freedom.

The two roles taught him about the differences in acting for the camera as opposed to theatre acting as part of an ensemble.

“It was a small role, but hard work,” the 28-year-old said about Waiting for the Barbarians (based on the JM Coetzee novel). This first stage adaptation was directed by Canadian-based Russian director Alexandre Marine.

Working on the Waiting for the Barbarians production was different from Solomon and Marion, simply because of the sheer number of people involved.

Being in Canada also opened Anthony’s eyes to the concept of being backstage on a production where stagehands pre-empted your exit cues.

“It was also my first time working with a big cast, so I had to get used to the energies and the attitudes.

“There was nobody who was arrogant, but I was feeling ‘this is weird to me, working with a big cast’.”

He said the standing ovations were all the cast could ask for, but the Q&A sessions were very challenging because it gave him an insight into how the Canadians saw South Africans.

“The play dealt with racism and what was happening in that place, and the sessions were about how they see us and how the ‘Rainbow Nation’ is seen out there.

“They think we are heaven. Really. They think South Africans, because we talk of the Rainbow Nation and have this ideal kind of freedom… er, ja…

“When I was there, I got that the same thing that is happening here, is happening there. There are people there who are still fighting the system, they are called the First Nations.

“I thought that they thought the play was talking about South Africa. In my eyes, and I think every actor who performed in that play, we felt the play was talking to the whole world.

“Those talks kind of got hectic for me.

“I think talking about race is over-rated. It’s high time we looked past it and address issues that face us now.

“That’s my struggle for now – what’s happening here and now, poverty, joblessness, things like that,” he said.

“Also what was interesting, how I played a lead actor in Solomon and Marion and a co-actor in Waiting for the Barbarians.

“It was a big transition, knowing that it’s not my story, it’s the magistrate’s story and we’re helping to tell his story. It was challenging in a good way. It’s not about me, it’s about the bigger picture, and as an actor you should learn to draw a line.”

Something he learned from Suzman was not to sell himself short. “In Waiting for the Barbarians, Grant (Swanby) was a big actor, and Nic Pauling and Owen Manamela and Chuma Sopotela… so immediately when I start to say these are the big actors and taking myself small, then I will be small.

“I never sell myself short. They’re big actors in their own right, so I must match that.”

Solomon and Marion plays in Joburg but I caught up with Anthony at the Baxter.

His voice coaching has brought home to him how fast he talks in his regular life – which is pretty fast. It’s something he cannot do on stage when he has to enunciate and pronounce his words – something he’s really having to think about for a forthcoming trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, to perform in Solomon and Marion.

His experience on the Long Walk to Freedom set taught him about conservation of energy and not going full tilt at a scene from the beginning, because you will get asked to do it over and over again.

But, it also opened up another possibility for his burgeoning acting career.

“I don’t think I’m a good TV performer yet, but I would like to make it and learn because as an actor you should not have a weak point,” was how he put it.

• Solomon and Marion plays at The Sandton Auto & General Theatre on the Square until the end of the month.