In a sense, Zee Ntuli – a film and television director who has won numerous awards – is not putting the TV world on the back-burner. Having co-written and also directed the multi-media facets in Ask Walter, he is actually bringing the audience closer to the small screen.
Ask Walter, which is the brainchild of co-writer and director, Aimee Goldsmith, runs at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton. It is about a college dropout who somehow manages to land a TV talk show gig. Take that, Trevor Noah.
While there, he hopes that no one can tell that he’s completely winging it all. His girlfriend, Jade, is the show’s producer and one of the most feared women on set. Their relationship dynamic is tested when the TV show gets a new cameraman called Trent and Jade takes a liking to him.
This comedy of errors comes to an even funnier head when the audience is let in on the fact that Trent is actually into Walter, even though Jade can’t see that. And hilarity ensues when the first guest on the talk show finally arrives. Ask Walter stars Jeremiah Mntonga, Ricci-Lee Kalish, Arthur Bongani Zitha, James Reynolds and Denel Honeyball.
Having directed the critically acclaimed film Hard to Get as well as a few TV series episodes and ads, I ask Ntuli if some of the plot lines in this play were taken from real-life, on-set experiences.
“Look, this play is essentially about the process of falling out of lust instead of love,” he chuckles. “It’s definitely inspired by personal experience and experiences that the cast and the director, Aimee, have had. It’s experiences of people they know but it’s pushed to a certain point, and that’s one of the things that makes the play so much fun. It’s this absolute romantic mess that actually ended up being hilarious.”
So none of his actor friends are going to accuse him of spilling all their tea then? “All names have been changed,” he exclaims, laughing.
Ntuli is the director of multi-media facets but what exactly does that mean? “The show takes place on the set of a live TV show and, essentially, what happens is there are clips that are played in the show that we’ve crafted,” he explains. “For example: adverts. Multi-media things along those lines.”
Getting involved in Ask Walter was an easy decision for Ntuli because he’d been around it since the idea was born.
“This is a project I’ve worked on with my fiancée, Aimmee Goldsmith, who is a very talented theatre maker,” he shares. “It’s a project I saw some years ago when it was still in its infancy. And I really fell in love with it.”
“For me, I really just want to see work on screen and on stage that is really entertaining for the audience. That’s what we should focus on in South African entertainment. I also absolutely love the cast. They are performers I’ve worked with on screen as well. It’s a cast I just love watching. It’s such a fun play. A passion project of sorts.”
When it comes to on-screen projects, there is a certain luxury in knowing that the scenes will be edited and created into one film or episode that will live on forever as is. But when it comes to theatre, that luxury is absent. The cast can practice all they want but a number of variables can give audiences a different play every night.
Ntuli says: “While they are clearly quite different mediums, the common thread here is the essence of story and performance and telling stories with visual imagery. While they are different mediums, I try to share a cinematic perspective on the piece as a whole. Just to bridge that gap a little bit.”
He continues: “With this show, there are audience-interactive elements to the play that will make it quite immersive and different every night. That’s an exciting thing for me. Just the concept of having to sacrifice the amount of absolute control that you have with the screen every single night for theatre. You have to forget that. What happens is that you have to put your faith and trust in the performers and let the work speak for itself on stage.”
Ntuli is enjoying his foray into the medium but that doesn’t mean he’ll never go back to what he’s won awards for: films. He explains: “I’m still very much a film person. It’s still my first love. I’m doing some commercial work and my second feature film. But with that said, I’m very excited to be tackling something new in this capacity. So come and check out the play!”
* Ask Walter is at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton until June 4.
** Tickets at Computicket and the box office.