PETER TROMP chatted to ‘Spud’ author JOHN VAN DE RUIT upon his return to the stage after almost a decade in ‘The Insanity League’, currently showing at Theatre On The Bay.
You haven’t been on stage since ‘Black Mamba’, which was almost a decade ago. What drew you back to the planks?
I suppose I was curious to know what it felt like again. I guess too after the years of solitude writing the Spud series I was ready for a volatile creative experience.
When did the theatre bug first bite?
When I played the lead role in Oliver at Michaelhouse in 1990. I had my hair dyed, discovered the majesty of women, and realised I might never want to do anything else ever again.
Tell us a bit about the ‘Mamba’ shows, for those that might not have seen them. They were pretty wild and awesome, I remember.
Thank you, it always amazes me how many people have come up to me over the years at book talks to speak about Green and ‘Black Mamba’. The thing about the ‘Mamba’ shows was that Ben and I spent six months honing a 70 minute script. It was slick and witty satire that developed a reliable following around the country much to our delight and surprise. I see the ‘Mamba’ shows as my first real break in my career.
So, you’re resolutely back with ‘The Insanity League’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
The insanity league has some traces of the ‘Mamba’-esque razor wit, but is a big mad belly laugh of a show where one should certainly expect the unexpected. Yes, it’s a sketch show, but it feels like something completely different. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed performing in show more.
You have reunited with your ‘Mamba’ co-conspirator Ben Voss, but you’ve also been joined by Aaron McIlroy. Tell us a bit about these merry lads (assuming they’re merry, of course) and the chemistry between you lot.
I’ve long believed that Benny is a great bunch of guys. And spending the year touring with him hasn’t changed my mind on that. People think that Aaron is stark raving mad because of how he looks on stage, the truth is he’s far more insane than that.
What did it feel like during those initial rehearsals when it must have dawned upon you, “Whoa; I really am doing this again?”
Frantic and terrifying. I was carrying so much doubt that it took a full week of performing for me to stick my head out of the trench to realise that I was actually doing okay. Theatre is a great leveller because nothing that happens before the moment of stepping onto stage matters.
You’re also known for your literary exploits. To what extent have you been surprised by the enormous success of the ‘Spud’ books? Measure your surprise in Richter scale terms, if you don’t mind.
Initially I was astonished. But after some time that astonishment morphed into a realisation that my story had drilled into the Zeitgeist in some way. I still love the thought of that. Initial Richter reading 11.6.
In all seriousness though, what does it mean to you that ‘Spud’ has become so firmly entrenched in the unique landscape that is SA popular culture?
Pride is a funny word with negative connotations which I tend to avoid. To have reached into the lives of so many people, has given me so much satisfaction. It still feels like a gift. It makes me want to experience more and write better.
What can your legions of literary fans next expect from you?
That’s a very good question. I’ve set aside next year as time and space to dream up something else. I have numerous plot and character thoughts but I hope to work out which characters belong to which story and how to hone a writing style without being either repetitive or indulgent.
What were your initial reactions when you found out that comedy legend John Cleese, one of the most prominent masters of the sketch comedy form, was going to appear in the ‘Spud’ movie?
I was in Kuala Lumpur with my partner Jules on April Fools’ day when the email came through from producer Ross Garland. Naturally I thought he was taking the piss. But it was no joke. I’m not sure that level of sublime news is easily repeated. That night I don’t remember sleeping.
Has there been any attempts from yourself, or others, for your initials, JVDR, to become a thing? It’s got quite a ring to it.
Thank you very much. Thus far nobody’s made any offers.
What are some of your favourite things and haunts when you’re in Cape Town?
I write this having just returned from a brief flower road trip via Clanwilliam and Nieuwoudtville, I have to say it was spectacular. Aside from exploring the restaurants of Kloof Street, a trip to Franschhoek, Elgin and the Winelands is a must. But hell, this is Cape Town, where every bay offers yet another quaint mystery.
Finally, please complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; holiday destination; lunch spot.
‘Pulp Fiction’; ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller; U2 – ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’; Bob Dylan – ‘Like a Rolling Stone’; Peanut butter and litchi honey on toast; South East Asia; Simply Asia, Park Road.
* ‘The Insanity League’ is showing until August 31.
Book at Computicket.