From Swaziland theatre clubs to Cape Town’s biggest stages

From Swaziland theatre clubs to Cape Town’s biggest stages

PETER TROMP spoke to local actor MARK ELDERKIN, who will shortly be seen in ‘The Frontiersmen’, a new play written by Fleur du Cap Theatre Award winning playwright Louis Viljoen showing at the Upstairs at the Alexander Bar and also starring Nicholas Pauling.

When did the acting bug bite for the first time, and how did you go about making it your career?
I grew up in Swaziland and they used to put on great shows at our local theatre club. My mother took me along to see as many of them as we could and I think that was where I first became fascinated by the whole thing. I then went off to the Drakensberg Boys’Choir, The National School of the Arts and finally UCT Drama School. So I guess it was a kind of natural progression for me. I think it was clear that I wasn’t going to be a heart surgeon.

What do you count among your most treasured career highlights?
That’s a tricky one… being cast in the title roles in ‘King Lear’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’ back at Drama School helped me get a start in my career. Since then I’ve filmed at Pinewood Studios with Halle Berry and been on a stage at the Edinburgh Festival. Not sure I could ask for anything more really.

Tell us about ‘The Frontiersmen’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
The Frontiersmen is a dark foray into the underworld of two men working as property developers in South Africa. It is violent, hard hitting and dangerous. It is not safe, comfortable theatre. The writing is unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s brutal. If you like your theatre experience warm and fuzzy, this isn’t the play for you. However, if you can accept that we live in a world that has a dark and dirty layer to it, then come watch this play.

This is the second play of Louis Viljoen’s that you have tackled seemingly in succession. What is it about his writing that appeals to you personally?
His writing is hugely challenging to perform. It’s also a joy to say things you’d never say in real life. This play is very different to ‘Champ’, but his underlying style and tone is equally evident. While we were busy with ‘Champ’, Louis and Greg Karvellas (director) mentioned that they were going to be staging another play and asked if I’d be interested. Nic had signed on already and I immediately said yes.

Tell us about your character. How have you gone about realising him?
I play a guy called Shane who is basically the ‘golden boy’ in a property development firm. However we meet him and his co-worker, Yuri, on a day where they have just killed a highly prominent person who stands in their way of securing a lucrative deal. In real life I’m a bit of a newspaper junkie and read the papers every day. You don’t have to look very far to find someone to base this kind of character on.

‘Champ’, uncharacteristically for a new South African play, became critically acclaimed as well as a box office success. You guys also took it to the Edinburgh Festival. How has it felt being part of a South African theatrical success story?
South African plays are doing really well at various festivals around the world. It’s just really nice to be a part of that in a small way. ‘Champ’ started out as an Artscape New Writing project, then got picked up by The Fugard Theatre, and ended up in Edinburgh. It was great to be involved in a project that had people who believed in it and were determined to let it have a longer life.

You star alongside Nicholas Pauling in ‘The Frontiersmen’. You guys also shared the stage in ‘Champ’. I imagine you’ve gotten to know him quite well. What can you tell us about the guy?
Nic and I have known each other for over 10 years, but strangely this is only our second professional show together. He is extremely generous, funny, plays the drums like a demon, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Shakespeare and is an incredible actor. Luckily he’s crap at tennis so I get to beat him at something.

Viljoen’s plays have become known for their liberal usage of profanity. What do you say to folks who might not even consider watching a play that features bad language?
If you aren’t a fan of swear words then I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. There are plenty of shows around that I’m sure you’ll enjoy, but a Louis Viljoen play will probably not be one of them. For those who can look past that and want to see riveting drama, come and have a watch.

What can we expect from you next?
I’ve been involved in an American TV series called ‘Black Sails’ and I begin work on the second series of that soon. On stage I’ll be doing Paul Slabolepszy’s ‘My low-fat, almost Italian Wedding’ at Artscape. It opens mid- December with a terrific cast and is very, very funny. I’m really excited about that.

Finally, please complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; holiday destination; lunch spot; Cape Town hangout.
My favourites change all the time. As I have a two year old daughter my current list is…
Movie: ‘Shaun the Sheep’
Book: ‘Gerald the Giraffe’
Album: Zahara (she puts her to bed every night)
Song: ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’
Midnight snack: Lindt Mint Intense
Holiday destination: Swaziland/ Mozambique
Lunch spot: My house (with a Chippies Prego in my hands)
Cape Town hangout: A walk on the Sea Point promenade

* ‘The Frontiersmen’ will be showing at The Alexander Upstairs theatre at the Alexander Bar from Thursday October 3 to 12.
Performances will be at 7pm nightly, with two shows on Fridays at 7pm and 9pm. Tickets, priced at R80, are available from The Alexander Bar at, or on 021 300 1652.
The Alexander Upstairs is situated on 76 Strand Street, on the corner of Loop Street and Strand Street. ‘The Frontiersmen’ will carry a No Under 16 age restriction for explicit language and mature themes.