Lionel Newton

Grief: An old wood-turner tries to take his dying wife to hospital through a blizzard. Starring Ryan Dittman and Jaques de Silva, directed by Lionel Newton:

When André Stolz asked actor Lionel Newton (pictured) to direct one of the Chekhov pieces for his latest festival, the actor was in the right space – in his head.

“I’ve been coaching young actors and I thought it would be a good idea to extend their skills,” he says. It would be a test for their learning skills and his ability to both teach and direct. “Becket is my god,” says Newton, but that is why he appreciates Stolz’s Chekhov obsession.

His two actors are both physical theatre actors trained in Grahamstown, guided by his stage buddy, Andrew Buckland, and that’s why this particular short story, Grief, struck a chord. “I knew it was right when I read it out loud,” he says. He is also paying homage to playwright Reza de Wet, another Chekhov disciple, because both these young men were taught by her, and Newton both met her and is an admirer of her writing.

For Newton, stepping into the director’s shoes is almost like stepping out of the closet. “I’ve been working in corporate theatre the past 20 years, but I’m back.”

He has just finished a hugely successful run at The Market in Pale Natives and is currently working on a solo production of Paul Slabolepszy’s The Return of Elvis du Pisanie, which is an exciting choice.

The directing is adding another skill to his growing canon. “I’ve even built a little revolve,” he says, clearly excited. He has lost his heart to this very sad tale that could almost push you to drink, he warns.

But seriously, it’s poignant and it’s about capturing the spirit of the tale in the way the story is told. “It’s also intense,” says an actor who is known for exactly that quality.

Newton believes that it gives these two young actors 15 minutes to stretch themselves while at the same time honouring Chekhov. “It’s a real opportunity.”

And while he’s honing their craft, he’s also working on his own, bringing in director André Odendaal to help smooth out any crinkles in the Elvis solo which he is planning to tour extensively.

But first he’s off to Grahamstown with Agreed as part of Sylvaine Strike’s body of work as the 2014 featured artist. It’s where the piece started before he reworked the performance with Strike.

But the directing, working for about two hours every second day, honing the actors, has opened new avenues and sent his head in a new direction. “It’s about two okes telling stories,” he muses – and that’s what he’s been doing most of his life, telling stories.

“I’m having a go,” Newton says about moving into another space. They couldn’t ask for a better taskmaster. He has all the skills at his fingertips.

PROGRAMME A: JUNE 4,7, 12 @ 7.30pm; JUNE 7 @ 3pm

OPPAD (Afrikaans): Held overnight in an inn due to a raging snowstorm, a young woman meets an older man. With Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Maciej Lacny (cello), Danielle Retief, Riana Wilkens. Director: André Stolz.

THE SNEEZE: A clerk dies of anxiety when he sneezes. With Craig Morris, Gerard Bester, Toni Morkel, Maude Sandham directed by Morkel (with Morris).

SAINTLY SIMPLICITY: A country priest is visited by his wealthy lawyer son. With Kevin Smith and Grethe Fox.

PROGRAMME B: JUNE 5, 11 and 13 @ 7.30; JUNE 14 @ 3pm

ROTHSCHILD’S FIDDLE: To make ends meet, Yakov plays the fiddle for the local band. But he dislikes the flautist named Rothschild. With Greg Melvill-Smith, David Butler, Lynne Maree. Director: Chantal Nativel.

PLOTS: The fantasies of a doctor preparing to address the local medical association. Craig Morris.

TROUSSEAU (Afrikaans): A girl spends her whole life making a trousseau for her prospective fiancé.

Johan Engelbrecht, Karen Retief, Danielle Retief, Gustav Gerdener, André Retief.

PROGRAMME C: JUNE 6, 10, 14 @ 7.30pm; JUNE 8 @ 3pm

THE BROTHER: This play by Reza de Wet explores the relationship between Anton Chekhov, his brother Alexander and Natalia, Alexander's fiancé. With Tessa Jubber, Gustav Gerdener, Stiaan Smith. Director: André Stolz.

THE PROPOSAL: A young man visits to propose to his neighbour’s daughter. But arguments develop as both parties claim a piece of land. With Sello Sebotsane, Zethu Dlomo, Thulani Mtsweni. Director: Lebogang Mphahlele.

GRIEF: An old wood-turner tries to take his dying wife to hospital through a blizzard. With Ryan Dittman, Jaques de Silva. Director: Lionel Newton.

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