PETER TROMP chatted with the director and cast of the dark politically themed drama ‘The Kingmakers’, which will be showing at the Fugard Studio from Tuesday, February 23, to March 19.
The production netted Louis Viljoen two Fleur du Cap awards in 2015 in the Best New Script and Best New Director categories. It is back with a brand new cast member on a brand new stage.
What has changed about ‘The Kingmakers’ since we last saw it at the Alexander Bar in 2014?
We had more time and resources this time around and that has allowed us to explore the play more. The script is basically the same, but our goal was always to improve on the first production and let the play evolve. The actors and I agreed to approach the play as if it’s new and not rely on moments that may have worked in the first run. It’s a new stage, with one new actor and it’s been over a year since we did it at The Alexander Bar, so to fall back on old ideas for the sake of comfort is harmful to the play and possibly boring for an audience. Every play needs to be re-examined and you cannot rely solely on the success of a previous staging.
Tell us about your Playwright In Residence gig at the Fugard and exactly what it entails. Can we look forward to many more new plays in the near future?
It’s rare for any playwright to have the assurance that their work will be staged over an extended period of time, so the faith that The Fugard Theatre has put in me is a tremendous honour. Beyond ‘The Kingmakers’, they’ve offered to produce four new plays over four years and that has given me the opportunity to explore ideas and attempt work I couldn’t necessarily do outside of a supportive institution. They’ve put very few limitations on the work I’ve been asked to write and to know that I have the space and resources to produce plays that aren’t hampered by the restrictions of wholly independent theatre is quite thrilling.
How is having a second shot at your character been impacting on the choices you’ve been making?
It’s been a fascinating process. Louis was clear from the outset that he didn’t want to just rehash the same show we did before. We have a new actor in Brent, a new space and a new set, and this has all influenced the way I’m playing Arlow. The essence of my character is still the same, but there are some wonderful new moments that we’ve found.
Plato said that “the measure of a man is what he does with power”. What do you think/fear having political power will bring out in you?
I haven’t the foggiest. It’s too hypothetical. I’d like to think that I’d use it for the greater good, but who can really say until it happens to them? For me to crave any kind of political power, I would have to be an entirely different person, so I can’t really answer that question properly.
What can you tell us about Louis Viljoen’s methods for getting chemistry flowing amongst his cast members?
He uses sarcasm, self deprecation and lots of tea breaks.
Tell us about your character and your process of realising him.
Daniel is multi-layered and complex. He is a man of strength and integrity, but he is also flawed, as most great/tragic characters are. He is idealistic; he desperately dreams of a world and place in politics where he could make a difference without having to sell out. Sadly his political life thus far has been one of victory, but also bitter compromise. It was a fascinating and scary process looking into this character as well as inhabiting him, because he’s so real, he’s archetypal. When one works with a well rounded/written character, you very often just have to open yourself up to where the character wants to go, as esoteric as that sounds. I didn’t necessarily study other politicians, largely because they are already so omnipresent. It is more important for me to find the humanity of the character and tell the story from that standpoint.
You’re new to the cast. What’s the going been like with these actors who know the play inside out?
The first week was perhaps a little bit frustrating, but only because I had to rehearse opposite Pierre and Rebecca with my script in hand while they behaved like such well oiled machines. But as time went on, and I was able to let go of Louis’ gem of a script, we were able to pick up momentum. It helps that Louis, Pierre and Rebecca are patient and generous souls. They made my assimilation into the play very painless
What is the biggest challenge in getting to grips with Louis Viljoen’s muscular prose?
I love that description, “muscular prose”, so much. The challenge is a joyous one, because the language is rich and full, and one can never do it justice on first reading. So it’s quite intimidating, actually. After our first table reading I thought, “Oh no, I was so crap! Louis is going to fire me and I haven’t even had a chance to get up on my feet.” It helps that Louis is the writer, because whenever I’ve battled with a difficult concept, he’s been there to help, but he has also been very open to all of our feedback. Now that I have this “muscular prose” in my head, I feel the fun can really begin, because it gives me an opportunity to sink into the sub-text and meaning of the lines. And there is so much there. I’m excited.
We read about amoral individuals and their impact on the world every day. What’s it like actually inhabiting one, and how long does it usually take you after a performance to shake off Amy, the spin-doctor?
I’m grounded enough in who I am versus the characters I play that all it takes is a glass of whisky at the end of a show with friends.
How is having a second shot at your character been impacting on your choices?
It has been rewarding coming back to the role and to build on the choices I made in the first run. Amy’s key motivations – greed and self preservation – are still the same, but with the second run and with the new set and the different energy that Brent Palmer brings to the ensemble, we are all finding new moments, which is exciting.
* Performances will take place from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm.
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