Kate Normington is no stranger to the small screen or the stage.
Viewers would have seen her in Scandal, The Res, Backstage, Hard Copy and The Lab. She also spent five years in London but that wasn’t before she’d bagged a few stage productions and won an FNB Vita Award for excellence in Comedy and a Fleur du Cap for Best Actress in Nunsense, where she played Sister Mary Amnesia in 1987.
This time around, she returns to the stage in the semi-biographical musical, Funny Girl, which is based on the life and career of Fanny Brice, a Broadway star, film actress and comedienne.
On what she enjoys about this medium, she reveals: “Musicals teach you a daily discipline. They are a rare visceral treat where you engage with an audience in an immediate way. There is a degree of fear and exhilaration in equal measure because you never know how people will respond in any given moment. Musicals are for the young at heart because they teach you how to play again.”
As for how she came to be cast as Rose Brice, she recalls: “I wasn’t going to play Mrs Brice but I received a lovely message from The Fugard Theatre’s Daniel Galloway while I was on holiday in March, suggesting that I do it, and I am so thrilled I did because it’s been one of the happiest productions I’ve ever done.
She continues: “Mrs Brice is the same wise-cracking, witty retorting personality that her daughter is. They come from a long line of American Jews who made it their business never to be at a loss for words because I suppose their survival depended on it. She has a lot of heart and warmth and wants her family to be happy in an old fashioned hard knock way. The women of her era were very strong-willed and independent but still had surprisingly traditional views in terms of women’s role in society, which is what Fanny ultimately challenges. Mrs Brice is still bowed a little by convention, unlike Fanny who consistently explodes into her own independence and person.”
While she is familiar to some of her co-stars, this is the first time she is working with Clyde Berning, Diane Wilson, Jenna Robinson-Child, Sibu Mxosana, Ambre Chanel Fulton, Tamryn van Houten, Grant Towers, and Sven-Eric Muller.
“So nearly half the cast I hadn’t worked with before,” she points out.
Revisiting some behind-the scenes moments during rehearsals, she offers: “I loved coming to work with ideas and suggestions, being able to give input into this original Fugard production. The costumes are designed by Birrie Le Roux, who drew inspiration from the original era, between 1910 and 1925. They are very beautiful; great fabrics and lots of glamour for Fanny Brice, Nick Arnstein and, of course, the Ziegfeld Follies.”
She recalls a funny moment: “One rehearsal, I remember inadvertently patting one of the characters in the groin area during one of my speeches and because the cast had found it really funny Matthew (Wild – the director) kept it for the scene and it gets a good laugh each night.”
How would you describe Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s musical direction as well as Louisa Talbot’s choreography?
She says: “Charl is extremely articulate and inventive so it translates what he wants in a stress- free manner that really encourages confidence. He is a people person and understands his medium brilliantly.
“He’s interested and interesting;a sort of Renaissance man. He is well loved. The same goes for Louisa who is incredibly hard working,getting the very best from the people she works with. This is a talent because it requires insight and skill. Understanding who you work with means you are able to be creative around their skill sets. He has brilliant ideas about how to use people in new ways especially the stranger individuals like myself who require some inventiveness!”
As for Wild’s approach, she notes: “I’d never worked with Matthew before so I was interested in the way he first blocks a scene and thereafter finesses it. The cast are all very hard working and ultimately brave coming to work with ideas and suggestions which helped move the process involved in producing an original production.
“Some days were terrifying trying to hit the right marks artistically but we got there. Matthew knows exactly what he wants and ultimately leads you there without you realising he has! He’ll suggest things quietly and you end up thinking you’ve done the work yourself which is very clever on his part. He’s a sort of horse whisperer only with actors!”
So what else is on the cards for Normington?
She says: “I am going to be performing in a ‘mocumentary’ with Suzelle DIY, playing her mother but this time she is playing a different character called Tali, an entitled Jewish princess documenting her insufferable wedding plans. We will be filming it this June.”
Back to Funny Girl, she says, “Audiences will fall in love with the story telling. It is an old fashioned love story told with loads of passion, dance, and beautiful song. And Ashleigh Harvey as Fanny will blow people away with her brilliant voice and stage craft. She is a new star in the musical theatre firmament and people will be missing an important milestone in SA theatre if they don’t see her,” she says.
● Funny Girl is on at The Fugard Theatre. Tickets cost between R130 and R350. Call 021 461 4554 for more info or book through Computicket on 0861 915 8000.