Two extraordinary one-handers come to the Baxter in October

One of the hardest, yet most-rewarding forms of theatre to create is undoubtedly the one-person show. It’s intimate, challenging and is often a transformative experience for both performer and audience. The Baxter is thrilled to have not one, but two, great single-handers opening in October, brought to us by prolific writer / director Hennie van Greunen, one of South Africa’s most-acclaimed theatre voices.

Normality, starring Pedro Kruger is the story of one man’s struggle to overcome his physical disability and find a way to be in the world, while The Sewing Machine starring Sandra Prinsloo focuses on the life of an ageing woman who is trying to make peace with the changing nature of the country she lives in. The Baxter Blog caught up with Hennie van Greunen and put a few questions to him about both of these productions.

NORMALITY starring Pedro Kruger. Directed by Shirley Ellis, written by Hennie van Greunen. Golden Arrow Studio: 17, 19, 20, 26, 27,30 & 31st of October. Book at Computicket.

Baxter Blog: What inspired you to create Normality around this particular illness?

HvG: Three things: ONE: I grew up with a sister who was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. TWO: Whoopi Goldberg’s 1984 Broadway solo show sent one-person theatre in a completely new and exciting direction. In the show she does a disabled character and for me, as a 19 year old who grew up with a disabled sibling, that sketch particularly resonated in many places in myself that I had, up to that point not revisited. THREE: Pedro Kruger’s incredible talents as pianist, songwriter, actor and storyteller inspired me to write this one-man musical.

BB: How was it received when it played at the Edinburgh Festival?

HvG: It was received fantastically: we received five 5-star reviews and the first fringereview.com Hidden Gem Award.

BB: What can an audience expect from this production?

HvG: The way in which the character of Alex looks at himself and his world is incredibly un-PC, so the audience can expect to travel from hysterical laughter to profound sadness. Also, the play is about so much more than disability: show me the person who does not have some or the other issue with his/her body and I’ll show you a liar. So Alex is a part of all of us.

THE SEWING MACHINE, starring Sandra Prinsloo. Written by Rachelle Greef and translated by Hennie van Greunen. Golden Arrow Studio: 23, 24 October & 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 & 10 November. Book at Computicket.

BB: What made you decide to do a translation of this production?

HvG: I believe in Story like other people believe in Religion. I have a firm belief that the key to understanding and peace lies in our shared humanity which we express best through story. Also South African theatre has so many stories that are diverse, passionate and human – a commodity that many first world countries have lost. I would love to see SA established as a country of origin of world-class theater and we proved this at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe when the SA season, especially Mies Julie and The Sewing Machine, were the talk of the festival.

BB: What do you imagine life to be like for aging white people grappling with a new reality?
HvG: I think one should be careful not to generalise about old white people, instead let’s look at old people of all races in all parts of the world: the unwillingness/inability to change, to shake prejudices reinforced by a lifetime, the fear of loneliness and the feelings of being left behind in a world where politics, technology and social mores & values change rapidly and continually.

BB: How has it been working with the incredible Sandra Prinsloo?
HvG: Working with an actor of Sandra’s experience and talent is a joy: we also tend to feel the same way about the work that we do together. It is incredible to work with someone who immediately knows which direction we’re heading and who can give me, as the director, exactly the picture that I saw in my head. We worked together again on the 2011 hit ‘Janneman’ and there are a few more projects that we want to do in the future.

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Nicky Rebelo: ‘Like Shakespeare or Van Gogh, Bosman will never be irrelevant’

Nicky Rebelo is an actor, director and writer who has spent much of his career thinking and writing about Herman Charles Bosman, the mercurial writer who’s work still resonates in a South Africa that is vastly different to the one he lived in. Not only is Bosman one of South Africa’s greatest short-story writers, but his life story is the stuff of legend. Rebelo’s latest work, starring the astonishing David Butler, looks at the short time that Bosman spent teaching in the Groot Marico and the profound effect it had on his life.

Baxter Blog: Why Bosman? Why now? Is it still relevant for South Africans?
Nicky Rebelo: Bosman was one of the first South African writers, writing in English to stress the importance of writing from a South African point of view. He saw himself first as a South African and an African and did not concern himself with the narrow cultural distinctions, which some people love to hang on to. Bosman’s writing is appreciated today because it is very good writing. It is true art. True art is relevant for all ages. Just like Shakespeare or Mozart or Van Gogh will never be irrelevant, so too does Bosman’s writing remain relevant.

BB: Is this the first production to ever focus just on this period of his life?
NR: Yes it is.

BB: How did you come up with this production and how long has it been germinating?
NR: This production was a natural follow up to my first Bosman play A Touch of Madness, which was performed all over the country from 1998 to 2008. David sourced the material in order to do a performance at the unveiling of the replica school building at which Bosman taught in 1926 in Groot Marico, I then adapted and shaped the material to create the show A Teacher in the Bushveld, which premiered at the 2009 Grahamstown Festival.

BB: What do you think Bosman would have made of the 21st Century media environment?
NR: I’ve no idea. All I’m certain of is that whaterever he would have said about it would have been highly original and extremely witty.

BB: What’s the key to a successful one=man show?
NR: Holding the audience spellbound, which requires an excellent text, brilliant direction from a director who understands rythm, tone, music and pace and a very good actor.

BB: Where to from here? A movie? A musical?
NR: I am at present working on the film script based on Bosman’s life and work.

A Teacher In The Bushveld runs in the Golden Arrow Studio until 3 July. Book through Computicket.