New Cape Town drama to shake up TV schedule
A new drama series being shot in Cape Town is set to take over prime time on Thursdays and Fridays, as popular soap 7de Laan’s episodes are reduced.
Die Sentrum, set to replace old favourite 7de Laan in two of its prime time 6pm slots, is expected to launch on April 5.
The Afrikaans and Xhosa-language show is produced by Penguin Films and follows the trials and tribulations at a crisis helpline call centre in the Mother City.
The cast is led by actress Carmen Maarman. “Back in the day, everybody trekked to Joburg because it was a TV scene,” she said. “New work has finally arrived in Cape Town, which I’m so happy about.”
Known for her theatre work as well as playing Natalie on the telenovela Arendsvlei, this is Maarman’s first leading role on television.
Die Sentrum takes place in a Cape Town call centre, answering the calls of people in need and with counsellors on standby to assist and dispatch help where needed. Maarman’s character, family woman Kelly van Rensburg, is one of those counsellors.
“She is a very kind person; she always keeps herself busy with work and her family is very important to her,” she said. “She’s also a very likeable person and she’s a ‘pleaser’. If there’s any eruptions at work, she will be the pacifier.”
Die Sentrum is off to a rough start in the eyes of viewers, thanks to it replacing 7de Laan on Thursdays and Fridays. Although 7de Laan will continue to be broadcast on Mondays to Wednesdays, effectively cutting the number of weekly episodes from five to three, the announcement received backlash from viewers. A petition calling for the show’s reinstatement was launched and has received more than 3 500 signatures in less than a week.
“I know there are diehard 7de Laan fans,“ Maarman said. “I totally understand where they’re coming from, but I’m really excited for something new. People are not good with change and I get that, but once they get into this and they watch the first episode, they’ll be gripped and we have great stories to tell. I’m very nervous as well,;I think we all are, but we’re very excited this is happening.”
Another member of the cast is Chumani Pan, former star of Ashes to Ashes and who plays loving counsellor Muzi Gadluma. “He’s loved by everyone, his colleagues love him, he’s great at his job because he uses unconventional methods in order to get through to the callers,” Pan described.
Pan said in preparation for filming, he and fellow cast members received training on how real crisis counsellors operate. “It’s stressful as a performer because you have to take on these challenging calls and play them as truthfully as possible,” he explained. “And in doing so, you have to carry the burden that the caller is having in order for the emotion to come across as authentic to the viewers. It’s a very interesting space to be involved in.”
Mandilakhe Yengo, who is directing the majority of the new episodes, said the premise of the show was a first for South African television. “It’s inspired by true events and cases when people call in, desperate people looking for just someone to talk to, even an old tannie who likes to call in just to make conversation,” he explained. “On the other side, we look at the call centre employees themselves in their own personal capacities, dealing with their own demons. There’s a lot of correlation between the people who call in and the centre workers themselves. As they solve the one case, we may see how that may influence them dealing with their own issues.”
With the show’s plots revolving around intensive issues such as abuse and suicide, Yengo said extra care had been given with their depiction. “We have to approach it with great sensitivity,” he said. “I actually spoke to the actor and said: ‘What we’re diving into now is a very dark place and I need to know you’re going to be able to pull yourself out of that and you are good to go to the place that I need you to go dramatically. But not only dramatically. This is potentially someone’s story.”
This week, filming of a plot involving suicide was taking place on the day it was reported that 34-year-old actor Ceagan Arendse, known for his role as Woelag on Arendsvlei and as Frankie on Suidooster, committed suicide.
“It was actually quite rough that we were filming that and we had just heard the news that that had taken place,” Yengo said.
Die Sentrum will also star Keeno Lee Hector, Randy Januarie, Stiaan Bruwer and Zenobia Kloppers.