PETER TROMP spoke to this year’s double Fleur du Cap winner Jonathan Roxmouth about his new one man show ‘Topsy Turvy’, which pays tribute to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. It will show at Theatre On The Bay until June 30.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a performer?
I suppose it is a bit cliché but I was a very shy child until I realised the power of entertaining people as someone else or playing the fool. It turned out to be addictive.
What do you count among your personal highlights thus far?
I just finished playing the Phantom in Pieter Toerien’s smash hit revival of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. That will forever be my greatest challenge night for night. It never got easier and demanded so much on and offstage. That being said, I have never learnt so much on one show as I did with that company. That covers traditional Musical Theatre. As for theatre and revue, writing and performing in ‘Hats Off!’ with Alan Swerdlow and Louyis Zurnamer was an absolute joy from those mornings huddled in Mugg and Bean with my Mac and Alan hashing the script out to seeing it come together and get a fantastic response from Cape Town audiences. What a rush!
Tell us about ‘Topsy Turvy’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
‘Topsy Turvy’ is billed as a fresh look at Gilbert & Sullivan. It is a young person’s guide to their world of musical satire and caricature. Between ourselves, Alan and I have relooked the lyrics and added certain things. The best thing about Gilbert and Sullivan is that what they were sending up way back when has not changed much. Political clowns, social mishaps and certain clueless public figures from their operettas have real life counterpoints in modern South Africa. Audiences have seen the show and come up to me afterwards loving the fact that they were in on the content without necessarily being familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan. That’s the point – whether you know of them or not, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Tell us about some of the characters you play in the show. What have been the challenges you have faced in realising so many characters?
The biggest thing with a one-man show full of characters is making sure the delineations between each one is clear and that they don’t start sounding like one another. That goes for the women in the show as well. The vocal challenge of covering bass, baritone, tenor, contralto and soprano is daunting, but doable with practise.
Who is Jonathan Roxmouth the person, and what makes him tick?
Very plain and ordinary things, like splitting the atom, long walks on the beach and playing the Mongolian foot harp.
You have had a longstanding professional relationship with Pieter Toerien. How did it come about, and what is the secret to the successes you guys have celebrated together so far?
I first met Pieter when he picked up ‘A Handful of Keys’ and the subsequent production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. We shared an almost debilitating love for theatre and got on really well doing a lot of talking and story swapping. I reckon honesty and being completely open about the good and the bad is the key to any business relationship, as well as the ability to share a laugh – wicked or otherwise.
How did you feel about winning those Fleur du Cap awards a few months ago?
To receive any recognition is wonderful, but to win both was fundamentally shocking. ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Phantom’ were the two single most difficult musicals I have done up until now, as the roles I played were serious. I had begun to be known as the “funny guy” and the opportunity to do something dramatic was a gift. To follow a role like Judas with a plum like the Phantom was exceptional and then to be recognised and honoured with the Fleur du Cap was a feeling I still haven’t come down from.
You appear to be somewhat of a musical theatre specialist. Are you happy doing just musical theatre, or do you also hope to branch out into more dramatic roles?
I want to be challenged. Whether it is in a musical or not is irrelevant to me. I am not fussy – I just want to do different things, should the opportunity arise.
You’re still very young, yet you’ve already accomplished more than most people in their careers. What is still on your bucket list of things you’d like to do in the arts, and outside?
Phantom was my bucket list. I am a lot more chilled now and want to take things in my stride. I am not going out there wanting to be Hamlet or Mephistopheles just yet. I am loving doing something light again like ‘Topsy Turvy’. The concept of one-man shows is new to me and I am giving it everything I have. Musical theatre goals still include Jean Valjean in ‘Les Mis’, but for the straight theatre, I would like to do Stanley in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and Salieri in ‘Amadeus’.
* Book at Computicket.