NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

While this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) will be enjoyed by most from the (relative) comfort of the various school and/or other plastic chairs sourced from all over Grahamstown, for those working behind the scenes the story can be quite different.

“To be honest, I think I might just lose it completely sometime over the course of the week,” quips ImpACT Award for Theatre nominee Quintin Wils.

One of several productions he is taking to the festival this year, Cape Town audiences were first introduced to this young Gauteng-based director’s work through Smaarties, which enjoyed a run at Alexander Upstairs last year.

The first part in a theatrical trilogy, Wills will take Smaarties along with its second instalment, Suster, as well as a brand new “mobile thriller”, called aLEXA (a reference to its lead character), to Grahamstown. In addition, he’s also signed up for a collaboration with former Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Theatre, Sylvaine Strike, as part of Simply Sapiens.

“Because I’m also handling all the technical aspects at my shows as well, I will literally be present at almost all of my productions during the festival. So, yes, I’ll basically be running around like a headless chicken trying to fit everything in,” he laughs.

Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

A typical NAF day for Wils includes getting up at 6am, attending various technical rehearsals, the setting up of stages and performance spaces, then the clearing of them out afterwards, compiling notes to his casts and crews as well as catching up on admin for other projects he’s got kicking off immediately after the festival.

Referring to the concept behind Suster, he explains that the plot follows the story of the sibling of the main character featured in Smaarties, Mr. Lotz. Both pieces were written by Jannes Erasmus.

“You might recall that Jannes was also the lead actor in Smaarties. Suster, in turn, stars the exceptionally talented Carina Nel. It is a powerful one-woman show which follows the journey of Sybil, a lady diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) after the death of her parents.

“But while both plays are so closely linked via plot and characters, they are at the same time far enough removed from one another in order to be watched as standalone pieces.”

Asked what exactly a “mobile thriller” is, Wils answers that it’s a production that plays of inside a moving vehicle.

aLEXA
aLEXA

aLEXA has three audience members sitting in a driving car, along with the actors, while the production is taking place right in front of, and around them.

“I have also given the piece an immersive theatre edge, which means that the audience will not only be observing and watching the actors, but they will also interact with them and have a say in which direction the production can take a turn.”

When approached to stage Simply Sapiens alongside Sylvaine Strike and Megan Wilson, he says he “completely freaked out.”

“The production features three standalone plays, performed by the same two actors – Greg Melvill-Smith and Craig Morris – over three acts.  Each play was written and directed by a director from a different generation. I was chosen to represent the younger generation.

“My piece is Crossing, and in it Greg’s character is asking whether we as humans are just surviving, or trying to survive through violence without even noticing it. Physical theatre is used at first by an unnamed creature to try and word this to the audience, but is then stuck by having to resort to words to communicate with his audience instead.”

When coming to experience his work for the first time at NAF, Wils advises that the most important thing to remember is to enjoy each piece for what it represents individually.

“Some audience members have told me that my work usually kicks them in their stomach and throws them into deep ends that they’ve never explored before – but all in a good way!

“When started directing, I decided for myself that I will always try my utmost to create and direct work that people will not only look at and remember, but that they feel like they have actually experienced something afterwards.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

REVIEW: INHERENT END

Tamarin McGinley
Tamarin McGinley

This review was first published in Cape Times on 31 March 2015.

INHERENT END. Directed by Kim Kerfoot and starring Tamarin McGinley, with dramaturgical assistance by Kati Francis. At the Alexander Upstairs theatre, Monday to Thursday at 7pm (Until April 2). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

Tamarin McGinley’s Inherent End tells three stories simultaneously, each one intriguing enough to supply a full play on its own.

In the first we meet 11-year-old Stacey Venter, who, 60 years ago, first made her appearance as the title character in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel, Lolita.

Against the backdrop of lazy porch swings, dusty gas stations and unfiltered Americana, the book chronicled her sexual relationship with a literature professor in his (very) late 30s.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Stacey/Lolita now finds herself, in addition to her mentioned extracurricular activities, also trying to survive the Y2K countdown, dungarees as fashion and the rise of online dating.

Thanks to the internet, no longer do sexual predators have to go out in search of their prey either. Instead, all one has to do is simply log (anonymously) into an internet chatroom and take your pick of girls like Stacey.

Inherent End

“Things must be different in America,” the teen lets slip between gushing over Demi Moore in Striptease and Rob Estes in Silk Stalkings. “The rules here are ‘the kid stays with the mom’. Even if she doesn’t want her. That’s what my dad told me when he left.”

Presented by the Instant Arts Col­lec­tive and directed by Kim Kerfoot, the second story told in this often dark-humoured play revolves around an unnamed woman who develops an unhealthy attraction/obsession towards someone she befriends online.

A product of parental and societal neglect, we can see early on that she’s too far down the road to even think rationally about what she’s doing. Thanks to her wit and personality, however, we begin to see that, above all, it is the need to be loved that drives her actions.

Performed throughout by McGinley, in the production’s final story a scientist prepares to give a TED Talk. Arguing that it is not only physical traits such as hair colour or bone density that can be passed on from parent to child via DNA, her talk motivates that the same can also be said of emotional experiences or mental trauma.

“Put simply, [epigenetics] is the study of heritable changes in gene expression,” she tell us while practising her speech in front of the mirror. “Changes that sit on, epi, the genes. Hence epigenetic.”

Told through monologues, digital projections and a stream of consciousness, how Inherent End’s three characters relate to each other, or whether they are, in fact, three different people at all, make for an interesting 65-minutes of theatre.

In addition, through McGinley’s arresting performance, the piece also asks its audience to consider universal matters relating to relationships, sexuality, human behaviour, the nature of morality, biology and psychology.

While it’s not necessary to have read Nabokov’s Lolita in order to understand this piece, I did find that being familiar with the novel helped me draw similarities between the narratives easier as well as help me follow the action on stage faster.

Both as a playwright and as an actor McGinley displays a range of skills and interesting ideas. Successfully adapting a well-known story into one of modern relevance is no mean feat. Yet she succeeds because she understands that the best kind of theatre is not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes one just has to spin it at a contemporary speed.

First staged in London last year at Camden People’s Theatre, while there certainly is no lack of bravery or content in the play, it is also admittedly not “easy” viewing – both in terms of script as well as in presentation. Finding tweaks to making both aspects more accessible to a wider audience is perhaps something that could be considered for future runs.

That said, for those who like life to a little more abstract and a little less paint-by-numbers, Inherent End might prove to be an interesting and unique trip to the theatre.

It is also a great opportunity to see a formidable duo (Kerfoot and McGinley both graduated from UCT in 2007) embark on what will hopefully become a long and prosperous creative partnership.

“They fuck you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to, but they do,” Philip Larkin writes in his poem, This be the Verse. “They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.”

Part confessional, part discourse and part innocence lost, you only have until Thursday to go see what Inherent End’s programme means when saying its characters will “straddle the gaps between victim and preda­tor, circumstance and action, innocence and guilt.”

l Tickets are R80 – R90. To book, call 021 300 1652 or see www.alexanderbar.co.za.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: INHERENT END

Review: KEEP OFF THE GRASS

Kelly-Eve Koopman
Kelly-Eve Koopman

This review was first published in Cape Times on 30 January 2015.

KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Directed by Gabriella Pinto, with Kelly-Eve Koopman. At the Alexander Upstairs Theatre, 76 Strand Street, until February 7. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

It doesn’t take long for the bottle of rosé to come out in Gabriella Pinto and Kelly-Eve Koopman’s Keep off the Grass. Plucked expertly from inside a tasteful, expensive-looking flower pot, this year’s Regional Ubuntu Garden of the Year Award adjudicators must have missed it when they came to inspect her carefully curated garden earlier this morning.

Be careful of passing judgement too quickly on the play’s Desperate Housewives suburban-type protagonist, however, as you’ll soon learn that she has more than enough to feel outraged over. She is, after all, a real amateur horticulturist. Not some hack like her neighbour, Mrs. Van der Byl, who “just sommer plaks cacti with bonsai and hopes for the best.”

Playing the unnamed, yet sublimely memorable homemaker is Koopman (Woza, Andries, Ubu and the Secrecy Bill). Armed with gumboots, a garden fork and a sunny floral dress, she rarely gets up from her chair, nor does she resort to grand gestures or high voice pitches.

Instead playing out like the lo-fi buzz her character is feeling from the wine, this is a highly civilised production floating on an ocean of suggestive undercurrents.

536_Keep off the Grass - Kelly-Eve Koopman 02

Remember that intro scene from the TV show Dexter? In it we see him, while getting ready for the day, executing a series of seemingly pedestrian actions such as flossing his teeth or squeezing a grapefruit. Yet there is something in the presentation of these actions that involuntarily turn our minds towards feeling as if they’re carried out with murderous intent.

Similarly, while on the surface Koopman’s housewife might be heard comparing Wendy houses to garden chalets, or bushes trimmed to look like Madiba with celebratory buffets at the Cattle Baron, one is never quite able to shake the feeling that something much more sinister is lurking behind her words.

As a result, one does not doubt that the sign by her gate reading, “Keep off the Grass” is no more there for aesthetic purposes than a, “Beware of the Dog” equivalent would be. Set your foot on this home executive’s meticulously trimmed property without permission, and I’m sure an unfortunate “accident” involving your sprinkler system will soon follow.

“We wanted to create a one-woman show with a villain as the lead,” former SCriBE Scriptwriting competition-winner Pinto (Chickens) tells me after Monday’s preview performance. “We weren’t interested in doing another love story, or one that focused on violence against women. We wanted a protagonist with agency, but also one that was fun to play on stage.”

Both having grown up in similar close-knit Cape Town communities, her and Koopman’s script does a remarkable job in evoking related imagery in the viewer’s mind. While the dialogue never mentions a specific suburb, it doesn’t have to because it could be found anywhere where Table Talks or TygerBurgers are delivered regularly.

Who are these people, you wonder, who live in their cocooned utopias and whose worst fears are not finding a parking space close to Woolworths’ entrance? What kind of person accuses their refugee gardener of being “disloyal” for accepting other work on his day off, or the neighbour that hired him as being “underhanded” in an attempt to have a prettier garden than them?

538_Keep off the Grass - Kelly-Eve Koopman 04

In addition to turning their wit and words towards the topics of female competition and the recent scourge of newspaper reports involving unprovoked incidents of suburban violence, with this play Pinto and Koopman have also succeeded in creating a vivid backstory for their carefully constructed antiherione.

“She’s coloured, upper-middle class and in her 30s,” Pinto goes on to tell me. “In addition, she’s married to a white husband and trying to assimilate herself into the bourgeois suburb she now finds herself living in.

“Status and prestige is important to her. She desires to be admired by the community. She has an opinion about everything and everyone. She criticizes everything.”

Understated, terminally delightful and buckling under all the decorum, undertaking a trip to the shady side of suburbia before Keep off the Grass ends next weekend is as tasty as that glass of rosé you’ll be able to take into the theatre with you.

Click here for bookings.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Review: KEEP OFF THE GRASS