Janna Ramos-Violante and Fiona Ramsay star in Miss Dietrich Regrets.
Janna Ramos-Violante and Fiona Ramsay star in Miss Dietrich Regrets.

No regrets as actresses Fiona and Janna team up

By Diane De Beer Time of article published May 26, 2015

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“When two people are in the same industry and are so like-minded, the universe just kind of goes: ‘Hey! You two should meet, it would probably work out’. Turns out, the universe was right,” says Janna Ramos-Violante about the coming together of what seems to be fast becoming a stage partnership of considerable note with Fiona Ramsay.

But for Gauteng, this is the first time we will see these two actresses sharing a stage in Miss Dietrich Regrets which opens at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square next Tuesday with a run until June 27.

Ramsay explains: “We got to work together when she produced Doubt in which I played the formidably stern Sister Aloysius to Janna’s rather more naive Sister James. We discovered a shared vision of theatre, and I also recognised a kindred soul in terms of her energy and commitment in getting a project off the ground. The play was directed by James Cunningham (and will be again for the season in Joburg later in the year) – when one gets to work with fellow thesps who share one’s creative ideals one holds on as it can be rare and should be cherished and nurtured.”

It didn’t take long before Ramos-Violante directed a special piece devised by Ramsay, herself and Tony Bentel, The Old and the Beautiful, which will travel to Grahamstown for the festival. Then there’s Craig Higginson’s new play in which the two star, Imagined Land, directed by Malcolm Purkey, which returns to Joburg and Pretoria for runs later in the year.

Miss Dietrich Regrets, written by Gail Louw, directed by Sylvaine Strike (see interview), will be the first time that this duo allow their magic to be witnessed in Gauteng.

The play, according to Ramos-Violante, deals with the gritty reality that lies beneath a very damaged mother/daughter relationship.

“The writer is my sister-in-law,” says Ramsay, “and she has long spoken about writing with me in mind. It explores the relationship between the legend that was Dietrich and her daughter Maria Riva, exposing the maladies and marvels of celebrity, fame and mother/daughter relationships. Myths were created around movie stars in the early Hollywood days to enhance and increase allure and mystery. Marlene said she was not a myth but a legend and the play interrogates just what that is.

She continues: “The title is intriguing and suggests the many layers the work investigates in terms of Marlene’s life and all that embraced. There are many women who juggle careers and motherhood who experience a conflict and some guilt and I think will identify… with many of the issues. And, of course, add a dash of celebrity, an ‘impossible’ personality, a dedicated creator of her own legend into the mix and sparks are bound to fly and make for compelling drama.”

“It’s been a special time working with two such extraordinary talents. Fiona’s generosity, bravery and incredible instincts always astound me and Sylvaine’s magic, sensitivity and uncompromising truth remind me why we do what we do and love it so much. We are hoping the production will have legs, but it’s early days yet,” adds Ramos-Violante.

“I have long wanted to work with Sylvaine,” says Ramsay. “She’s developed her particular style and vision of theatre. It appeals to me.”

They were spending time on a TV set chatting when she spoke to the director about the play. It was early days still.

“On reflection this seems to have been one of those productions where all seemed to fall into place as if some magical creature had thrown all the ingredients up in the air,” she says.

They are also excited about being part of the new South African work, Imagined Land, written by Higginson. Again Ramos-Violante and Ramsay explore a mother/ daughter relationship.

“I play an acclaimed writer and am looking forward to creating a very different being to the extraordinary Marlene.”

May they both soar.

l Sandton Theatre on the Square: Miss Dietrich Regrets: June 3 to 27; Grahamstown: Imagined Land and The Old and the Beautiful: July 6 to 13; Sandton Theatre on the Square: Doubt, July 28 to Aug 15; Imagined Land, Aug 17 to Sept 18; then to the State Theatre, Nov 2 to Dec 5.

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