Sylvaine Strike’s passion for performing arts is manifested in every production she does, whether as an actress, writer or director.
And she has been nominated for awards and honoured too. Her earlier accolade dates back to Baobabs Don’t Grow Here, a play she had directed and co-written for the 2002 National Arts Festival. Her other credits in critically-acclaimed offerings include: Black and Blue, The Travellers, Coupé, The Butcher Brothers and The Table. Aside from her Best Director nomination last year for the Naledi, Fleur du Cap and Woordfees for Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof, she’s also kept her foothold in TV and film with District 9 and Black Sails season 3.
At the moment, she’s busy lending her expertise to Molière’s Tartuffe.
On how she came to be involved with the production, Strike explains, “In 2012, I created The Miser (also by Molière) for the French-SA seasons.
“It was a critically-acclaimed success, with over 70 sold-out shows in Joburg and then at the Baxter. I was then commissioned by IFAS (French Institute of SA) and the Alliance Française SA to stage another Molière in 2017, based on the success of The Miser, and I chose Tartuffe, which is arguably Molière’s most popular work as it resonates so deeply with us today.” However, the journey from there to the play reaching the stage in different cities across the country took a while to come together as funding, sponsorships and logistics were worked out.
With this particular production, known for its “uneasy” comedic tone, Strike says, “I was determined not to do ‘literature in fancy costumes’ and to make it as relevant and accessible as possible. I knew from the start that the style had to be a perfect blend of clowning, physical embodiment and sharp delivery of the excellent text that is Tartuffe.”
While she had the script, she needed another crucial ingredient to fulfil her vision – securing the right cast.
She reveals, “I had my three leads in place before holding auditions: Neil McCarthy, Vanessa Cooke and Craig Morris. I knew, without a doubt, that they each had the dynamic, necessary talent for what the play required from their respective roles. After casting them, we moved into the next phase – auditions.
“There was an overwhelming response to my call for auditions – 270 actors expressed interest and we had to select an initial round of candidates based on their résumés. “I was looking for physical intelligence in my actors and a strong ability to deliver text. I also had to cast carefully, selecting actors that had the sustainability required to hold out physically, mentally and vocally for a six month tour.
“After three days of auditions and callbacks, I am proud to say that I have the most exceptional cast – a dream ensemble who have utterly bought into the vision I had for this piece and committed fully to its heightened physical style, even though few of them had worked in this style before.”
Shedding light on the costumes and set design, she adds, “I chose to set this in the 1930s to 1940s. I love this period aesthetically, but also felt that it resonated with our current times in that there is a feeling of despair in the global air at the moment. “I also wanted to set Tartuffe in a garden and not in an apartment, as is specified by Moliere. The themes of Tartuffe are very real; they deal with hypocrisy, swindling, using power to abuse others, abusing people’s gullibility and kindness for self-gain (sound familiar?).
“Exploring these themes reminded me of a household that is full of love and life but is gradually deprived of sunshine and oxygen, as Tartuffe’s energy begins to take over their lives.
“My set designers Sasha Ehlers and Chen Nakar set about designing an outdoor gazebo. The set is beautiful and has a fragility about it. “The costumes are very specifically designed for each character. The actors and I worked closely with Sasha to make them uniquely expressive of each character.”
On whether she prefers directing to acting, as they offer a different rush, she admits, “I have come to prefer directing. But yes, both these crafts offer a different rush. I firmly believe that performing makes me a better director, and that directing makes me a better performer – so I can’t really separate them ever. They are symbiotic to my creativity.”
Why should theatregoers watch Tartuffe?
She says, with unmistakable pride and enthusiasm, “Tartuffe is entertainment at its best. “It has the right dosage of hilarity, poignancy and visual stimulus to have a brilliant night out. The company is a joy to watch, from start to finish. It is full of surprises, beauty and darkness too. Tartuffe is a luminous reminder of why classics remain eternally relevant – and are called classics.”
Molière’s Tartuffe runs at the Baxter Theatre from April 18 until 29 at 7.30pm. There will be selected matinees at 2pm. Thereafter the production moves to The Joburg Theatre from May 31 at 8pm.