“Growing old is an inevitability we all face-Time waits for no man and as sure as taxes, the reaper will visit us all.”- Greg Karvellas.
Florian Zeller’s award-winning play The Father makes its South African premiere at The Fugard Theatre featuring an all-star cast led by the incomparable Marius Weyers. Translated into English by Christopher Hampton, The Father peers into the mind of Andre, a retired dancer living with his adult daughter Anne and her husband. Or is he a retired engineer receiving a visit from Anne who has moved away with her boyfriend? Why do strangers keep turning up in his room? And where has he left his watch? THE FATHER is a funny, sad and poignant roller coaster ride on a fight against insanity that twists and turns with all the excitement of a taut thriller. After spending an evening peering into the mind of Andre, we were fortunate to be granted the opportunity to peer into the minds of the female cast members of the show; Anthea Thompson, Amy Louise Wilson and Emily Child.
What was it about this piece that made you want to be involved?
Anthea Thompson: I had actually seen the Afrikaans version. It’s been translated into Afrikaans and I was so blown away by it. I thought it was an extraordinary and insightful piece. Apparently he is incredibly young, Florian Zeller.
Amy Louise Wilson: He is so young!
Anthea Thompson: And his understanding of the subject matter is astounding. I was aware of the auditions coming up and I phoned and insisted and basically begged. I came to it from a back route but it’s an astounding piece of work.
Emily Child: I hadn’t seen that version. I had heard of that version. I just read it. I always say in the first five pages of the script you know if you are interested or not. Straight away it was just something unusual and something real and something human. It just felt like an important story, I was a huge fan. And I’m a huge fan of Greg Karvellas’ work.
Amy Louise Wilson: I only got sent one scene for the audition, I won’t say what the scene is incase people haven’t watched the play. I read that scene and I was like “even if this is the only scene that this character has in this play, I’ll do the play just because this one scene is so great.” It’s so complex, so many different currents switching so quickly in each scene. The writing is brilliant and obviously to work with Marius (Weyers) is wonderful.
Anthea Thompson: I’ve got to second that.
Emily Child: Same.
Anthea Thompson: He is an icon. It’s like witnessing a master class in acting every day on stage.
Emily Child: He is such an incredible performer, humble, hardworking…
Amy Louise Wilson: …Disciplined, skilled…
Emily Child and Anthea Thompson: And generous!
This play is called The Father and centers around that character so traditionally it doesn’t come across as an ensemble piece. However, when you watch it you realise that the only reason that this production is thriving is because you have all managed to come together. How were you able to find that sense of ensemble in the rehearsal process?
Anthea Thompson: It is kind of a mind-puzzle. You have to find out which piece of the puzzle you are. We really had to work quite hard to make narratives because the play jumps back and forth in time, characters change form. It wasn’t easy, I’ve got to say, I struggled a lot to find the throughline but that’s the point that as an audience member you get to see what it is like to be in the mind of an alzheimers patient. That was tough. I got really confused at times.
Emily Child: It was a very relaxed and warm environment in the rehearsal room. I think that comes from Greg, and from Marius knowing that he was a huge central point of the story. I think that was very helpful as an ensemble, we could come together and know even if you are not exactly sure what piece you are yet, that we will find the play and the world will come together and the story will be whole. That was quite lucky that there was no strange tension. Everyone wanted to just engage and tell the story.
Amy Louise Wilson: I think that’s an example of a cast of actors who are much more interested in just making the show work than making their own performances brilliant. That is not really the point, the point is, as you said, where you fit in and having a greater objective than your own ego, which is surprisingly rare in shows with a cast of more than three people.
The play is not structured linearly. How did your process have to change to tackle the work?
Anthea Thompson: I think the first part of it was to really understand the disease. You have got to take the text at face value. Greg was very clear that everything that happened on stage or in this non-linear narrative was seen through the eyes or the mind of Andre, the father. That was actually quite a secure place to start from even though it wasn’t logical. It was all through his lens and understanding the subject matter so that you are on a ‘what it must be like,’ and really as a support to Marius, that was very important in my feeling.
Amy Louise Wilson: Particularly in your role.
Anthea Thompson: To help him as a) An actor and b) to develop this emotional narrative because it is a humongous task. It is extraordinary what he does.
Emily Child: We (Emily and Amy) sort of form part of his dream space which is, I suppose, different to another process of representing the story and representing that. Then I’m not sure of what is fact and what is real in that. Trusting that it is his story and that we are part of that human’s mind and his emotional journey. In a way that makes it make sense.
Amy Louise Wilson: But also in the way that the play is written, like you say about being so confused about the sense of time and narrative, and then at the same time you kind of just have to surrender to it. I think the audience has to as well because those scenes are quite episodic and then it’s just about really being present in the moment as opposed to looking forward or back which becomes too confusing.
As an audience member, I found it interesting that once the show went to blackout, that nobody moved for what felt like 60 seconds at least. How has the audience reaction been and how do you feel about that?
Emily Child: We’ve talked so much about that. It’s been really interesting.
Anthea Thompson: There was a woman I know that came to see it and (she) came out into the foyer and she was utterly overwhelmed. She said “You need to give us 10 minutes in the darkness to digest before you come out for the curtain call.” It’s been interesting. When it was our final dress or first preview, there was just a stunned silence and Greg couldn’t help himself and the compulsive need to start a clap.
I think he started the clap the other night as well to be honest.
Emily Child: We are starting to understand that if people need that time, we need to give them that time. There have been people crying loudly. There are pieces of pain, pieces of history that people are needing to work with and work through it seems, often in odd parts and not in places where you would expect them in the story. It’s quite special somehow knowing that the room is held in that moment.
Amy Louise Wilson: I’ve been thinking about it and this is just a theory, but I think it also has to do with the writing. The story goes along in a certain way and then it accelerates quite fast towards the end. There is a lot of light moments towards the beginning and middle of the play and then it accelerates quite quickly. I think that might also have to do with it. It just ends and then you realise where you are and it is just so horrific…
Anthea Thompson: It is his disintegration that happens in those last 3-4 scenes. In a way the audience is being lulled because it is, it’s called a tragic farce. You have those light moments in the beginning as the train starts moving and then it changes tracks and goes back into another track and then in those last three the disintegration is so profound, as you say it’s so quick. There is a sense of shock.
I know that this play is deeply personal for a lot of you and can take an emotional toll. How are you able to sustain six shows a week?
Anthea Thompson: All three of us have personal knowledge and a personal connection with the disease. Mine is my mother.
Emily Child: My gran.
Anthea Thompson (about Amy): And her gran. I found it very difficult in the beginning because I was terrified to surrender to the story because it is so personal but actually it’s non-linear narrative is almost a saving grace. There is a slightly technical approach in some ways, you know where you slot in so it’s not like seeing that disintegration from beginning to end in that linear sense.
Emily Child: That’s true. You can step out. I suppose that we are used to it. It is our jobs. There is always an emotional toll and you take things home but I feel like I’m aware that we treat this similar in the way that we can’t just not get up everyday. We have to come and do our job, and, in a way, I like being able to think more about it in this space. It’s much more comfortable than actually dealing with it at home.
Anthea Thompson: There is something safe about it.
Emily Child: There are boundaries and there is a structure and you can explore it as much as you need to and then…therapy and all of that when you go home.
Anthea Thompson: The play is so well constructed.
Amy Louise Wilson: I guess its specific to this character, but I don’t feel like I tap into my own experiences or emotions at all when I play this character.
Emily Child: With our parts we don’t really need to.
Amy Louise Wilson: There is a part near the end, the last couple of scenes of the play, because of how the set is and how it’s directed, I’m seated on stage in the view of the audience but concealed by the screen and I have to watch those last few terrible scenes between Anthea and Marius and Emily and Marius and it is horrific. I was watching them attentively for the first few times that we were on stage but then I just realised I can’t. It is just too hard. Now I train my eyes downwards and I think of something else because I can’t actually watch it every night. It’s too hard.
Emily Child: You have to learn to make a break in a way. A safety break.
Anthea Thompson: The screens are great.
I feel like the movement of the screens is almost it’s own ballet.
Anthea Thompson: That was the word that came up in rehearsals.
There is so much unity. I don’t know how you remember all the movements.
Emily Child: It took a while.
Amy, you are also going into the companion production to this one called The Mother, What are you looking forward to in regards to working on both of the plays?
Amy Louise Wilson: The Mother was written a couple of years before The Father. It is quite different. I don’t think there is quite as much humour as in The Father. Obviously I am looking forward to working with Anna-Mart van der Merwe. I can’t deal with how excited I am to work with her. And I’ve never worked with Janice Honeyman before. I am excited to see what her process is like. It is just an exciting character. In the same way as in The Father, you see the characters through his perspective, similar perspectives in The Mother and you are never really sure. What is different in The Mother is that you get two conflicting versions of who my character is. You get what I imagine is very much her perspective of my character which is this very sexualised, terrible kind of person and then you get a different version. That is different from The Father.
Anthea Thompson: I can’t wait to see it.
Part 2 of our conversation with Anthea, Amy and Emily can be found here. The Father will run at The Fugard Studio Theatre, from 8 November to 3 December 2016 Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm with 4pm matinee performances on Saturdays. Tickets, ranging from R130 to R160 are now available and can be booked through Computicket on 0861 915 8000, online or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet. Bookings can also be made at the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554. There is a generous 15% discount available for the Friends of The Fugard members.
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Emily graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2007 with a Theatre and Performance Degree, specializing in Acting. She then worked as a member of Cape Town based theatre troupe – The Mechanicals. Her work has garnered her numerous awards and nominations including the 2015 Fleur Du Cap for “Best Actress” for the role of “Laura” in Louis Viljoen’s “The Pervert Laura” last staged at the The Fugard Theatre. Other theatre projects include Steven Berkoff’s “Decadence” directed by Christopher Weare, “LEAR”, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Guy De Lancey, “CHAMP”, written by Louis Viljoen and directed by Greg Karvellas where Emily performed at the Edinburgh Festival 2013, as well as LA based, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre production of “Urban Death”, directed by Jana Wimer. Emily was recently seen at The Baxter Studio Theatre, Grahamstown and Hilton Festivals 2015 in “Born in the RSA”, directed by Thoko Ntshinga, as well as Mike Bartlett’s “CONTRACTIONS”, directed by Greg Karvellas at The Alexander Bar and Hilton Festival 2016. She will perform in “The Emissary”, written and directed by Louis Viljoen in the Cape Town Fringe Festival 2016. On camera, Emily’s projects include the SAFTA winning series pilot, “Armed Response”, BBC’s youth series “Young Leonardo” as well as feature films “Shirley Adams,” directed by Oliver Hermanus, “The Dark Tower” directed by Nicolaj Arcel and “Beyond the River”, directed by Craig Freimond, to be released in early 2017.
Anthea has proved herself to be a highly versatile performer, director, writer and theatre maker. Some of her theatre credits include: the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Rosalind in As You Like It, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shirley in Shirley Valentine, Margaret Hymen in Broken Glass with Sir Anthony Sher, Kate in Taming of the Shrew, Myrtle in Tennessee Wiliams’ Kingdom Of Earth, which travelled to the Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival in Provincetown, Mooi Maria in Pieter Fourie’s classic Mooi Maria and she currently continues to tour with the translation of Geraldine Aron’s Afrikaans translation of My Brilliant Divorce. She has won four Fleur du Cap awards and the Best Actress Award at Aardklop for Mooi Maria as well as a Kanna nomination for My Briljante Egskeiding. The exploration of Alzheimers as a disease is close to her heart as her mother is in the advanced stages and she believes it is something that needs to be brought to the stage to shed light for both sufferers and families that are affected by it.
Amy Louise Wilson is a film, theatre and television actress from Johannesburg. She studied Acting and Contemporary Performance at Rhodes University, Shakespeare and Performance Studies at Leeds University (UK) and Acting Honours at the University of Cape Town. Her stage credits include the one-woman show Scrape, Four Small Gods (Magnet Theatre) and the Silver Ovation award-winning The Year of the Bicycle (performed in Cape Town, Durban, Germany and most recently at the Market Theatre). Major television roles include Fox’s The Book of Negroes and ABC’s Of Kings and Prophets. She has played leading roles in films such as Warner Brothers’ A Cinderella Story and Netflix’s new drama The Siege of Jadotville.