When I first saw One Woman Farce in its earliest days more or less two years ago at a rehearsal at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, I was stunned by actress Louise Saint-Claire’s physical and verbal athleticism.
You’d have to see the screamingly funny farce to understand the pyrotechnics she has to do. That was two years ago and she and director and writer Greg Homann are in previews at Pieter Toerien’s Studio Theatre at Montecasino, officially opening on Sunday, with a season of seven weeks of a reworked One Woman Farce.
“That’s a long run,” says a fit Saint-Claire. “I just get to grips with the part at a festival, and we’re finished.” This is a real treat and she started running at the beginning of the year to get herself in shape.
She and Homann obviously share a bond, which is what got them started four years ago. “We wanted to work together,” says Homann.
It started out as a few evenings a week when they would write and after winning a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival in 2012 and sell-out performances at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival last year, it’s finally Gauteng’s turn to catch what many regard as comic genius.
“You have to play them for real,” says Saint-Claire as she warns her director not to play the pre-performance run out of sequence.
“Don’t scramble my brain links,” she says. Because there are approximately 70 entrances and exits, she has to hold herself together so she doesn’t lose her way. Even relearning and reworking the play for this particular season was tough. “Your brain muscle almost has to be reset because you’ve learnt it in a specific way,” she says.
As the conversation switches easily between these two artists, the funnier lines would become part of the play. “He did most of the writing,” says the actress, but he tells of gems like the time she answered the phone during a rehearsal and turned to him and said: “Damn, I wanted a couch, now I have to replace a clutch. Who can sit on a clutch?” It immediately became part of the script as did a faulty entrance from the workshop period.
They wanted to play with the term farce and the first thing you look for is there – five doors. But this is a solo performance and each time Saint-Claire slips through one of those doors, she’s playing another member of the Hodgkins family.
When Granny moves in, she plunges the house into lunacy. Liz, the mother, tries to hold it all together. There’s also a “like, whatever” princess who only talks in Twitter-speak, a stuttering adolescent trying to understand this madcap household, the father, a few family pets, and other quirky but very recognisable Joburg characters.
They wanted to create a one-woman show that had local appeal, with themes a middle-class suburban household in Gauteng would recognise.
Homann is thrilled that while they were aiming for comedy, they have also achieved a thematically rich play that humorously explores what it means to be a woman playing multiple roles in a frenetic city.
“Women will all recognise these characters,” says Saint-Claire as she explores the multiple roles many of us have to juggle. They wanted the characters to be real and Homann knows that the young Kyle is close to his own younger circumstances.
“I grew up in a family with three older brothers and most of the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on. There was a real sense of confusion to my world,” says this 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Theatre who has been busy writing his own play for this year’s festival. “Once this one is up and running, we can start rehearsing,” he says and is grateful that anxiety has turned to excitement. He’s pleased he chose to write something new as not too many people know him as a writer but as a director.
Grabbing the old and the new, he’s charged to start working on Oedipus @ Koö-nu which will also be the opening production at the main Rhodes Theatre.
Saint-Claire will join husband Michael Richard in July in the Bobby Heaney-directed production of the hugely successful Broadway production Vanya Sonia Masha Spike! to be staged at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in July.
But the race is on with their current suburban tale.
“I think the way we have worked at this one has brought heart to all the characters,” says Saint-Claire.
And doffing the hat, Homann says, “she still cracks me up!”
• One Woman Farce runs At Pieter Toerien’s Studio Theatre at Montecasino until June 8.