After the sell-out success of ‘The Hotel Plays’ in 2016, the Vineyard Hotel and Abrahamse & Meyer Productions are joining forces again to bring Cape Town theatre lovers what promises to be an unforgettable evening of fine wine, dining and two of the most outrageous and humorous plays by Tennessee Williams, presented under the collective title ‘Two by Tenn’.
This year one of the hotel’s historic suites will be transformed into an “intimate and immersive” theatre space where patrons will be transported to the most outlandish corners of Williams’ fertile imagination between the courses of a three course wine-paired dinner.
Peter Tromp caught up with Marcel Meyer and Fred Abrahamse, the creative force behind the production company who have given South Africans so many theatrical highlights over the past decade. “When a group of humans are gathered together to collectively make a piece of theatre happen, something powerful, meaningful and spiritual is bound to happen. No app on the planet can do that,” says Meyer.
Last year’s inaugural iteration of ‘The Hotel Plays’ was an undisputed theatrical highlight of 2016. What do you have in store for theatregoers this year?
MEYER: Although Tennessee Williams is most famous for his steamy, sexually-charged, southern, lyrical dramas, like ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, he had a wicked sense of humour and this year we have decided to give audiences an opportunity to experience Williams’ unique brand of comedy. We have selected two of his most outrageous, bizarre and funny short comic plays: ‘A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot’ and ‘The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde’. Like last year, the plays will be presented in a unique, intimate performance space interspersed between the courses of a sumptuous three-course, wine-paired dinner, but stylistically, the plays are very different from the two plays presented last year. This year’s motto is very much “expect the unexpected”. “Truth vs. Illusion” is a major theme in Williams’ work. With ‘Two By Tenn’ we really want to play with that concept: What is reality and what is illusion? And where do you draw that line, or can one even draw that line? We live in a “post-truth” era where “alternative facts” can pass as truths; an era where binary opposition is being deconstructed and gender binary is being seriously re-assessed. This year we are playing with the notion of placing an illusion upon an illusion upon an illusion that, through the genius of Williams’ writing, will hopefully shine some light on some truths about our human nature.
Tell us about the actors you’ve assembled for this year’s productions and why they were chosen.
FRED ABRAHAMSE: The cast members are Dean Balie, Marcel Meyer, Matthew Baldwin and Callum Tilbury – all of whom were in our production of ‘Hamlet’. After its success (locally and internationally), ‘Hamlet’ will be touring the United States, starting at The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival. Several of the ‘Hamlet’ cast are also involved in performing or the running of ‘Peter Pan’ at Canal Walk. So, in a nutshell, we have been able to offer consistent work to the ‘Hamlet’ company for nearly the whole year. This has led to a wonderful company spirit and a marvellous rapport between them as performers…which makes them and absolute dream to work with. ‘Hamlet’ will continue to have a life into 2018 and beyond so this company will be together for quite a while.
You have had major successes in the United States with productions you have toured there. What have the responses been generally, especially when it becomes known that you guys are an SA touring company?
ABRAHAMSE: American audiences and actors love the way South African actors access emotion. They are intrigued by our processes in creating theatre and completely bowled over by the fact that we can achieve such authenticity in a wide range of American accents, especially the Southern dialects. When I directed an all-American cast in a lesser known Williams, I found them to be quite conservative compared to South African actors. It took a while for them to loosen up and feel comfortable and trust enough to be able to start accessing real emotions. I guess we as South Africans have all grown up in such volatile times and we have no problems expressing ourselves.
* ‘Two by Tenn’ will première at the Vineyard Hotel, Colinton Road, Newlands on July 15 at 7pm and have additional performances at 7pm on July 21, 22, 29, and August 4, 5, 12, 18 and 19. Because of the exclusive nature of this event only a limited number of seats are available, so booking is essential. To book, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets cost R650 per person. Ticket price includes the three course wine paired dinner and the two plays.
The Vineyard is offering a special Hotel Plays Stayover package, which includes tickets to the show, the three-course wine-paired dinner, coffee, and breakfast. Packages are from R2150 for a single room, and R3000 for a double room, and available only for the nights of the shows.