Jenine Collocott is about telling stories in a novel way, aiming at the heart and mind of audiences. She speaks about her Mandela complex
Anyone who has followed director Jenine Collocott’s career will know that we’re dealing with an independent spirit who appears to follow her heart rather than her mind, which isn’t always an easy thing to do in a career as precarious as theatre.
Arguably her two most successful works, Dirt and Sunday Morning, written by her husband Nick Warren, tell it all. Starring in the first instance James Cairns and in the second James Cunningham, indicates the kind of independent slant she takes and then pulls off.
In April, her exquisite production of Paul Gallico’s Snow Goose opens at Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square which takes her in a totally different direction.
At the moment, she’s shaping her latest work, Making Mandela, while in play at the Momentum State Theatre, which was actually one of the first things she started working on; “I approached the NAC about funding for a project on Mandela which they approved and then I started with research.”
That was many years ago. It was while doing the research that she was struck by this remarkable man’s almost unremarkable childhood “and the message that carries, that anyone can succeed,” she says.
But writing together with her husband on the script and with masses of research, she was forced to push it aside to do her Italian studies under master pedagogue, Giovanni Fusetti, with special emphasis in the art of mask performance. With master mask maker and theatre director, Matteo Destro, she refined her art in a way that has steered her with this production, which runs until Saturday and is aimed at scholars and students. It will also travel to the National Arts Festival and she’s hoping to move it to Joburg at some stage.
It is an intriguing retelling of history from two perspectives, Mandela and the Afrikaner Broederbond, two unlikely partners yet born in the same year. She was fascinated when she picked that up and decided to look at these two extremes in a way that informs their future triumphs and disasters.
For her it was all about what they stood for and taking into account that initially the Broederbond, of its time, was battling its biggest enemy: The English. But of course the focus shifted and we all know what happened to that as it turned into a policy that strangled this country for 40 years.
Mandela, on the other hand, majestically grew into a statesman regarded by many internationally as one of the most revered leaders of our times.
It’s also the appeal of telling stories to a young audience who might not be as au fait with the facts as an adult. They will obviously be more informed about our much-loved first president, but how much would they know about the Broederbond if anything?
“It’s also something that should in its final version be enjoyed by adults,” she says.
It’s been a tough road from start to finish and now it is simply a process of watching the production to see where she has to make changes to improve the product.
“It’s been an epic journey dealing with what feels like an epic story,” she says.
Her cast is spot on with Mlindeli Emmanuel Zondi (who bears a strong resemblance to a more youthful Mandela); Jacques de Silva who plays his friend Justice in a show of contrasting outcomes of similar lives, as well as many other characters; and Barileng Thato Malebye who has to embrace all the female characters. They all do it well, coping with the constant interplay between using masks and then being without.
There’s a playfulness about the storytelling that pulls you into the heart of the production and Collocott hopes to heighten that even more. She’s thrilled by the response of the young audiences that are coming in for a special week of matinee performances, a strength of the State Theatre which has developed this strong bond with schools and universities in the hope of creating future audiences. If one watches how they respond and watch the production, we have no worries. How can you resist once you’ve been touched by the live magic?
Collocott was told that it takes a year to make a play – and while this feels like a long time being in the midst of the process, if you’re going to invest in your own work, its individuality and innovation, the way she does, once she looks back, the pain will dissipate.
But this master storyteller knows that.
• Making Mandela runs at the State Theatre’s Momentum until Saturday.