A Chris Weare helmed production of the powerful and moving family drama ‘Hello & Goodbye’, considered one of legendary South African playwright Athol Fugard’s most profound works, can be seen at the Alexander Bar in Cape Town until October 25.
PETER TROMP spoke to the two stars of the show, STEPHEN JUBBER and MARLISA DOUBELL.
Doubell also serves as producer on the production, courtesy of her production company The Sugar-daddy Theatre Co.
What attracted your production company to stage ‘Hello & Goodbye’ at this time?
This beautiful, Fugard family drama, but tragic play has always been very close to my heart. There is a personal history here for me. After my father passed away in Port Elizabeth on June 29, 2005, I was so overwhelmed that the following morning I got into my car and drove to Grahamstown to try escape it all by way of theatre. (That’s all I knew to do.) I drove to the first theatre I could find that had a crowd of people waiting outside. I parked, bought a ticket and went in. I did not know what I was going to see, but as it turned out it was ‘Hello & Goodbye’.
I did not know the play then, but it was a magnificent experience for me. I actually identified very strongly with Johnny initially, because I could understand how he simply could not let go of his father. This was exactly what I was experiencing at the time. It was a very sad madness that I could identify with. Of course, unlike Johnny, I snapped out of it soon enough.
I have requested the rights from Dalro for the past several years now. I had almost given up hope, actually, when an email came out of the blue that Athol Fugard had agreed to allow Sugar-daddy the performance rights – for which we are most grateful and thrilled.
Just like with ‘Sexual Perversity in Chicago’ last year at the Intimate Theatre, you guys got Chris Weare involved to direct this play. What is it about the man and his methods that make you guys such big fans?
Great question. Besides the fact that he is a master and professor of theatre, a legend that is himself an institution here in Cape Town (he will cringe if he hears me saying that, but it’s true), he is just such an inspiring person: loveable and gentle, but also one who commands respect. For me, I connected with his style instantly during our previous production. And the rest of Sugar-daddy also adores this great man. I have one of our members, Melissa Haiden, to thank for convincing Chris to work with Sugar-daddy. It took a great deal of Coco-Colas and Fruit & Nut chocolate bars.
He always has a strong vision of his creative interpretation and expresses his ideas with clarity and knowing.
He allows interesting discussions and debates about the play or characters and is always willing to consider choices or suggestions from us. He is so intensely focused when he directs you, sometimes you feel like the only actor or person in the world at that moment.
Tell us a bit about your character and your process of realising her.
She is disappointed in life. Her history alone is tragic. As a result of her life experiences, in order to cope with all the hardships and disappointments, she has developed a hard edge. There is a bitterness and resentment that comes up around the issues of her father or God. But, she does care about her brother Johnny in her own way.
I work super old school style. Discuss the history of the characters and story at length. Research the play. Learn my lines and blocking. Then let the character take over. It also helped that I am originally from Port Elizabeth.
What can audiences look forward to with the production?
It’s a dense text, make no mistake about it. If you are a fan of Mr Fugard, it’s a seminal work that isn’t presented as often as it could be. If you are not immediately turned on by an early Athol, that’s okay. You can look forward to a pretty universal story. If you’ve got a family, chances are you have your fair share of rifts and complications.
The question ‘Hello & Goodbye’ poses is how we deal with those rifts. Does time heal all? How long can things be left to fester before there is no going back? Can a broken family ever rejoin? If you come with those questions, you can look forward to a definitive answer.
Tell us a bit about your character and your process of realising him.
Johnnie Smit is a good boy. Obedient to fault. He idolises his bedridden father, and sees to his every need. He is meek before the Lord. He has no friends. Seldom leaves the house. Never held a job. And he is on the brink of his thirties. There are elements of me in there. I’m not saying which. But anyone who has let compassion justify compromising their own aspirations will identify with this boy. Hell, anyone who suffers from social awkwardness will identify with this boy.
* For bookings, visit www.alexanderbar.co.za. For telephone bookings and more information, call 021 300 1652. The Alexander Bar & Café is situated on 76 Strand Street