Dennis acts not for awards, but for the “bums on seats”

Dennis acts not for awards, but for the “bums on seats”

PETER TROMP spoke to seasoned thespian DAVID DENNIS, the recent recipient of Fleur du Cap and Naledi awards for his performances in ‘Richard III’ and ‘The Pirates Of Penzance’, about his new play ‘Brothers In Blood’, a politically themed thriller from the pen of Mike van Graan; why he remains a “jobbing actor” despite his success and why not being Indian can sometimes be a liability.


Tell us about ‘Brothers In Blood’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?

It is thought-provoking theatre. It will challenge and encourage some introspective engagement with its thematic propositions and yes, there is some humour.


How did you come to be a part of this project? Does an actor of your stature still have to audition, or are you offered parts on a silver platter now?

I did and still do have to audition like other “jobbing” actors. I was also invited by Ilse von Hemert to do a first staged reading of the play in Johannesburg so my association with its development goes back to 2008. It has become easier though, with experience, to “get the part” and I have indeed been blessed with offers I simply could not refuse.


Tell us about your character Abubaker Abrahams. What challenges did you face in realising him?

Abubaker quotes some lines from Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and this formed the basis of my reading of the character. The rest is vintage Van Graan in his best writing tradition. Abubaker’s humility, dignity and the erosion thereof is both universal and uniquely South African, a TRC of the soul. The challenge was to achieve both.


Mike van Graan has a reputation for being one of South Africa’s most controversial and politically minded playwrights. This play sounds like it very much fits into that pattern. Is there a concern that the themes might not appeal to more casual theatregoers?

The Market Theatre (Johannesburg) facilitated its first professional presentation, which was hugely successful, appealing to a diverse audience, proving that theatre is alive, flourishing and nourishing. This is a play about Cape Town and I have no doubt it will make its mark here too.


Did you get to work with Van Graan much during rehearsals and if so, what was the experience like? How hands-on is he?

Mike has been most receptive and responsive to the development of our rehearsal and creative input. It has been a deeply satisfying and enabling journey. Thank you too to our superb director, cast and host – Artscape.


You have just come off a spate of awards wins. What did it feel like to be honoured for different performances in two awards shows? 

There is always the fear one might be set for disappointment. Politics aside, recognition does wonders for the creative spirit, especially for such diverse material. However it is not for awards that one should work, but excellence in service to the craft of live performance and the bums on seats. We are nothing without the audience.


Do awards like these affect your mindset as a performer at all? Do you feel more pressure in their wake as audiences might now have expectations they might not have had before, or is it all business as usual?

It is business as usual as unusual as this business is.

You said at the Fleur du Cap Awards that you have received four Best Supporting nods in your career, but now hope to graduate to the Best Actor category. What is your opinion on how awards are judged? 

Awards are always controversial. They stimulate necessary debate and constitute a qualitative, introspective process for the industry. We should be judged by non-partisan peers and categories ought to be revised to (encompass) more accurate perspectives.


As a veteran of the stage, what have been the biggest changes you have seen and felt in the theatre world and its surrounding culture during your time as a professional? 

I am often confused by what is seen and accepted as professional. We are fractured and corroborate as an industry, but whatever direction we choose to travel it must be accountable, sustainable and uncompromising in standards. We cannot accept being given the fish without being taught how to fish, to paraphrase poorly as a pompous, opinionated old fart.


Please tell us something about yourself that people might not know about or might be surprised by. 

I only admit to being 39.


What’s next for you? 

‘Richard III’ at the International Shakespeare Festival in Romania in April, ‘Brothers In Blood’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the National Arts Festival, a world premiere of Ariel Dorfman’s new play ‘Delirium’ at The Market Theatre and a return season of ‘The Pirates Of Penzance’ at the Theatre On The Square – all before the end of 2012. Oh, and I am “not allowed” to audition for the role of Ahmed Kathrada, in a certain film to be made on our celebrated father of the nation, as I am not Indian. In a way, this is so typically RSA – “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”. (“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”)


* ‘Brothers In Blood’ is showing at the Artscape Arena until April 14. Book at Computicket or Artscape Dial-a-Seat on 021 421 7695.