By Peter Tromp – I have never interviewed an actor who possesses such an encyclopaedic knowledge of local theatre as Charlton George does. His memory must be truly elephantine, because the number of names, some I haven’t even heard off, roll effortlessly off his tongue.
“I have been fortunate to have been working almost non-stop in theatre,” he says. “It has meant that I’ve been able to turn down some TV work (that might not have been as stimulating as a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing.)” How often does one hear that?
Even while nursing a cold, George is an unfailingly affable presence in the deceptive winter midday sun that has us consistently switching tables in the restaurant, trying to find a space that is not too hot or cold. “I’m very proud of those two,” he says of two smartly dressed young actors that greet us and who share George’s genial demeanour. “It’s almost twice as hard for them to make an impression on the industry, coming from Oudtshoorn,” he adds, sounding every bit the nurturing elder.
George is one of those terminally underrated actors and one suspects he might just be too nice for his own good. He confesses that he isn’t particularly great at networking, and however impressive his vocabulary is, I somehow don’t think the words “kiss ass” form a part of it. Yet, despite all of this, he almost gleefully acknowledges that he has been consistently busy these past ten years, cropping up in productions both high profile and of smaller stature. He is not too proud to perform in school halls for teenage audiences with travelling companies; the likes of the late Joko Scott left an indelible impression on him when they performed at his school at the height of the apartheid era.
There is no question however that his participation in Hennie van Greunen’s restaging of Mike van Graan’s political thriller ‘Green Man Flashing’ at the Artscape Arena is a high profile gig. Starring some of the theatre world’s biggest names, George is well positioned to finally get the recognition he deserved.
Tell us about the show and what audiences can look forward to.
The play deals with a variety of thorny issues: Lust for power, moral decisions made in the name of justice, and gives us a glimpse of the mercenary types with dubious backgrounds who still haunt the political landscape.
Audiences can look forward to seeing the formidable talents of Anthea Thomson, Wiseman Sitole, Susan Danford and Thami Mbongo on stage together.
Tell us about your character and how went about preparing for the role.
My character is inspector Abrahams, an ex security cop who is now working for the violent crimes unit. He is seeking redemption by being a good cop. I find that the script is an important guideline to the character. Reading up on the TRC was very valuable.
Do you feel people still get typecast because of their ethnicity and race? Have there been instances where you felt this was the case with you?
I find that the typecasting happens more in the film and TV industry than theatre. That’s why I love the theatre. If you play a one dimensional Cape Flats thug once, chances are you’ll do it again, maybe with the difference that you like snoek. On stage you can play anything from Claudius to a cactus, or an investigating officer. I doubt if I’d play this on TV; I would probably be cast as the man being investigated. But we all have rent to pay.
‘Green Man Flashing’ was last performed ten years ago. Do you think it is still relevant to the political climate today?
‘Green Man Flashing’ is as relevant as when it was written about almost a decade ago years ago. You just have to switch on the TV to see the greed, lust for power, and vainglorious arrogance at play.
What are your thoughts on the current state of theatre, and being a working actor at this point in time?
At present Cape Town is the place to be for theatre. Amazing young talents are emerging onto the scene, and that is what makes being in this town at this time exciting. Although it is indeed a blessing to be on stage more often than in the past, it remains a hard and rocky road full of uncertainty, but with rewards that cannot be measured in monetary terms.
* ‘Green Man Flashing is show at the Artscape Arena until June 23. Book at Computicket.