Anna-Mart van der Merwe to head an impressive, all-South African cast in the SA premiere of Zeller’s companion piece, ‘The Mother’.
Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, ‘The Mother’ will have its South African premiere at the Fugard Studio Theatre on February 7 and will run until March 4.
‘The Mother’ is directed by Janice Honeyman, with the likes of Graham Hopkins (‘Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense’), Sven Ruygrok (‘SPUD’) and Amy Louise Wilson (‘The Father’, ‘The Year of the Bicycle’) completing the cast in this “moving portrait of a woman losing her grip on reality as her life spins out of control.”
When did you discover your love of acting and how did you go about carving out a career for yourself?
My mom started taking me to the theatre before I could talk. I grew up in Johannesburg and loved going to the Market Theatre or the Civic. I don’t remember having had a kind of epiphany where I discovered that I wanted to be an actor, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in stories. I now see that storytelling is one of the most dangerous and liberating human activities. Stories create beauty, or soothe, or help us make sense of our worlds. I was obsessed with reading. I took out armfuls of books from the children’s section in the library each week, and I devoured comics. After school I studied Drama at Rhodes, and then at UCT. Training to be an actor was a hugely important part of my journey.
As a young actress, what are some of the challenges you face in the entertainment industry as it exists in the present moment?
I think it is a difficult space to be an actor in South Africa at the moment. We don’t have structures in place to support actors like there used to be, like PACT or CAPAB. We are quite alone. We are freelancers in the true sense of the word. We don’t have companies to keep us working all the time; to keep us in the habit of being on stage or on the rehearsal floor a lot. So we have to motivate ourselves and find ways to keep fit and keep our ‘instrument’ (mind, body, memory, etc.) in shape. I have also been working in the film and TV industry since I graduated, and that is an exciting space to be in at the moment in South Africa because of so many international projects being filmed here.
You’re back at The Fugard Theatre in ‘The Mother’, after having recently appeared on their stage in ‘The Father’. Tell us about the new play and why it’s good to be back at The Fugard, as the only cast member of ‘The Father’ to return.
It’s hugely exciting to be returning to The Fugard with ‘The Mother’. It is an extremely gripping, exquisitely written play about a woman whose whole identity was defined by raising her children. Her children have now grown up and moved away and she feels very alone. It’s a portrait of a woman who is so isolated and plagued by her own insecurities and fears. Anna-Mart van der Merwe plays the lead character Anne, and she is so masterful – it is a privilege to watch and learn from her. ‘The Father’ was a very different play, and an honour to share the stage with Marius Weyers, a wonderful, humble man.
Tell us about your role and process for finding and realising your character. Has it differed from how you usually approach a part?
In ‘The Mother’, Anna-Mart’s character Anne is bitterly jealous of her son’s girlfriend, Elodie. I play Elodie, whom Anne sees as a damaged, hyper sexual and immoral person. She thinks that Elodie has taken her son away from her. She is an unusually challenging character to play because there is a disparity between how Anne imagines her and how she might actually be. In the play, you see two different ‘versions of the truth’, and you aren’t sure which is real. Is she really a disrespectful girl who smokes in Anne’s face? Or is she just a young fragile woman in love? I do a lot of research around what I think might be the psychology of the characters and what I think the playwright is trying to say through them, and then find the physicality of the character in the rehearsal room.
“Last night a show changed my life…” Which show?
I really love anything that Jaco Bouwer directs. He is a young Afrikaans director whose work I think has a real sense of beauty and danger and magic. I loved his show ‘Rooiland’, but also ‘Na-Aap’ and ‘Samsamasjien’ (an interpretation of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’). Too many to choose just one.
* Performances will take place from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, with a 4pm matinee performance on Saturdays. The Fugard Theatre is situated in the heart of District Six, on the corner of Harrington and Caledon Streets, Cape Town.