Bringing the gospel of theatre back to the Northern Suburbs

Bringing the gospel of theatre back to the Northern Suburbs

PETER TROMP chatted to celebrated playwright and director HENNIE VAN GREUNEN about his new show ‘Die Leo’s’, his translation of Nicky Silver’s Broadway hit comedy ‘The Lyons’, which can be seen at the Bellville Civic Centre from May 9 to 17.

What ignited your love of theatre, and what eventually compelled you to make a career out of it?
I grew up in Mossel Bay, a town where theatre was reduced to cabaret, which meant a relatively sad looking lady (normally from the sin capital that is Cape Town) that strips down to her panty and nipple caps. In matric we did a school tour to Cape Town and one of the stops was a trip to see ‘Children of a Lesser God’ at the Baxter Theatre.
It was like my soul consisted of a taut “plaasdraad” (farm wire) and that sometime in that performance, a muse just plucked it and it vibrated, which it still does. I found theatre like some people find God.

What do you count among you personal highlights so far?
I am very proud of the productions that played for several years, a feat that is rare in our business, but we have been blessed with quite a few. They include ‘Lyf/Normality’ (now part of our active repertoire for 13 years), ‘Die Naaimasjien’/The Sewing Machine’ (four years), ‘Shirley Valentyn’ (five years) and a myriad of smaller plays that were performed for two to four years. I am also very proud of our international work. We’ve performed our work and won awards in Edinburgh and New York.

Tell us about ‘Die Leo’s’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
‘Die Leo’s’ is billed as a comedy, but it is a comedy in the way that a really funny car crash is. It is very dark and shines a bright light on the dysfunction that lurks in the corners of most families.
This is the type of comedy that I love: the initial laughter opens the audience up emotionally and then it delivers a sucker punch right into their rubber parts.
The play addresses our inability to relate as just human beings and how easily we fall back into old patterns, especially when we’re back in our familial circle. It also has an interesting structure: two full scenes, a monologue and a dialogue.

You’ve assembled a phenomenal cast for the production. Tell us about the individual cast members and why you thought each actor would be right for their part.
Sandra’s character Rita is the mother from hell. I’ve told a few of my friends that if there mother is more of a bitch than Rita, I will personnally pay for their therapy. This role was written for an actress of Sandra’s skill and experience and it is a joy to see her revel in her acidic dialogue.
Also, she has a final two-page monologue that is somewhat akin to an opera aria and watching Sandra do that monologue is fantastic. Tobie Cronje’s Ben is a curmudgeonly old fart who, in his dying days, finally finds a voice and says exactly what he’s been wanting to say for 40 years.
He refuses to relinquish his hold on his house and says that he “loves everything in that house. Everything except the people!” Koert, their son, is played by Jacques Theron.
I saw most actors in his age group and finally found Jacques up in Joburg. Koert is a difficult charater: he is the gay son whose life is seemingly perfect and against whom his sister is measured.
He is not particularly likeable, but he is at the emotional heart of the play and Jacques does this beautifully. Erica Wessels is Lisa, his sister, a recovering alcoholic and divorced mother of two.
Through the years she has learned that the only way to get attention is by causing drama. And she does. Gideon Lombard plays Brian, the sexy young estate agent and object of Koert’s affections. The cast is completed by the very talented Petro van den Heever, who is the long-suffering nurse who has to witness and manage the insanity in Ben’s hospital room.

One of the big PR points surrounding ‘Die Leo’s’ is that you are using it as a springboard to bring prestige theatre back to the Northern Suburbs. You’ve chosen the Bellville Civic Centre as the venue for this purpose. What is your long-term strategy, and why the Bellville Civic?
With the festivals we are used to playing in school halls, church halls, activity centres and such and here we have a fantastic, fully equipped and beautifully maintained theatre in the middle of Bellville that is left unused.
This makes no sense. We normally take our work to Artscape or to the Baxter, but our core Afrikaans audience mostly live in the Northern Suburbs. We’ve increasingly noticed that folks from the North are less inclined to drive to Rondebosch or Cape Town for theatre.
There are issues with safety and the petrol price is a major issue. If this run works at the Bellville Civic, we will try to make it the home of our theatre when we play in Cape Town. And since we live in Durbanville, it is important for us to support the existence of a local theatre. Judging by the bookings so far, people love the idea.

Complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; holiday destination; lunch spot.
Movie: ‘Blade Runner (Director’s Cut)’. Book: Too many to mention, but the last book that I have been advocating like a disciple is John Green’s ‘The Fault in our Stars’. It is probably one of the top 10 books I have every read.
Music album: ELO – ‘Time’ (I am a child of the 80’s.) Song: Currently ‘Save Rock and Roll’ by Fall Out Boy. Otherwise ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. Midnight snack: I have formed an unhealthy relationship with ‘Haagen-Dazs’. Holiday destination: Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Lunch spot: Anywhere with a sea view.

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