BILLY SUTER chats to award-winning Durban actor BRYAN HILES, who is filling the title role in KickstArt’s production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, directed and designed by Greg King. It runs at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from July 5 to 23. Clare Mortimer, Peter Court, Belinda Henwood, Nhlakanipho Manqele and Lyle Buxton also feature in this tale of a boy who enters a magical giant peach while running away from his cruel aunts. An original score by Durban band South Jersey Pom Poms adds to the madcap fun of this colourful entertainment. Booking is at Computicket.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ROLE IN “JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH”, HOW YOU MIGHT IDENTIFY WITH THE CHARACTER – AND WHY YOU WOULD ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO SEE IT.
Well, I’m playing James. He’s the typical “orphan boy” raised by his two horrible aunts. A bit like Harry Potter living in a closet under the stairs.
James has no friends, doesn’t get to see anyone, has nothing to play with, no books to read. It’s all work and slaving for the two aunts… until something magical happens.
I can easily identify, being raised by my own two horrible aunts, moving from one house to another and back again, not being wanted anywhere. My solace was a river close by, where I would escape to and imagine a world of wonder, where I learned to sail and observe life.
I don’t need to encourage anyone to see this show… It’s Roald Dahl! And it’s KickstArt! And I’m in it!
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SHOW’S LOOK, PROPS AND THE MUSIC BEING PROVIDED BY DURBAN BAND SOUTH JERSEY POM POMS?
The show is designed and directed by Greg King; and having a wonderfully strong cast of creators, it’s a junk pile of marvel and intrigue.
The music is homegrown gypsy quirkiness and will have people bobbing and bouncing in their seats, humming along to melodies that remain long after the show is finished. This I know, ’cos they linger in all of our heads long after we’ve finished rehearsal for the day.
ANYTHING PARTICULARLY DIFFERENT, FUN OR OTHERWISE MEMORABLE IN THE WAY GREG KING DIRECTS COMPARED TO STEVEN STEAD , WITH WHOM YOU HAVE MOST WORKED WITH KICKSTART?
Greg is a silent observer, gently steering the action and allowing an organic growth of the story. It is a tricky script to tackle, leaving much to interpretation; and an organic approach means that ideas can keep flowing. It often also means more work as the show builds, but that never hurt anyone.
WHAT OTHER PROJECTS ARE LINED UP FOR YOU THIS YEAR?
There is a chance that Think Theatre’s two Shakespeare works, Othello and Hamlet, will tour to the Cape. If that happens, it will fill a gap immediately after James and the Giant Peach.
This is a gap where Rowan Bartlett, Darren King and I will be putting together a cabaret called Tie A Knot In It, which deals with songs sung by artists that have performed in Las Vegas.
We have put our own spin on classics and interspersed numbers with some witty banter and pointless facts about nothing in particular. We will be performing Tie A Knot In It in August and October; and are creating a sequel to last year’s Hilton Arts Festival hit (a cabaret of the same name) called Tie Another Knot In It.
In November, I will start rehearsals for KickstArt’s pantomime, Sinbad The Sailor, where I will be playing the dame. And that will see me through into the new year, when we tackle next year’s Shakespeare.
WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU STUDY DRAMA – AND WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE? ALSO, WHAT DO YOU MOST RECALL OF THAT FIRST PROFESSIONAL STAGE EXPERIENCE?
I studied at Technikon Natal (now DUT) in the embers of the last millennium. My first professional production, however, was earlier. I toured with the Story Spinning Theatre, of Cape Town, in their Eastern Cape tour of The Ugly Duckling And Other Stories.
What do I most recall? The touring, the dusty school halls and my audition.
WHAT THREE ROLES HAVE BEEN MOST REWARDING FOR YOU (AND WHY)?
Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors… what fun that was! The Baker in Into the Woods – I got to be a tormented character in a shepherd’s pie of fairytales. And the title role in Hamlet. To explore his complexities and turmoil, to delve into the conflict between old gods and new, right and wrong, greater and lesser evils, politics and greed, was immensely exciting.
WHAT ONE ROLE HAS NOT BEEN ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITES?
I can’t say I have had a role that I haven’t really enjoyed. No matter how small or insignificant, there is always something to dig into when it comes to a role. If it appears a bit boring, you are not looking deep enough.
HOW MANY AWARDS HAVE YOU WON, WHAT WAS THE FIRST ONE FOR YOU – AND WHICH AWARD DO YOU PERHAPS MOST CHERISH (AND WHY)?
I don’t know how many awards I’ve won. My first was for coming third in the Frees State BMX championships when I was about 5.
I don’t cherish any awards. I believe we should constantly strive for improvement. An award is an acknowledgement of work or excellence, but to cherish that acknowledgement is to put a psychological ceiling on your growth.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
Moments on stage are fleeting. I wouldn’t say I’ve had any embarrassing moment. At the time it would be sheer panic with no space for embarrassment. I’ve had a few of those… I lost my words once, in an adult pantomime in 2000. I was playing the huntsman in Snow White.
Snow White said something unusual and I thought, “that’s odd”, and then had no clue how I was meant to respond.
I looked into her eyes and said, “I’m speechless”. It would have been okay, except she looked back into mine and said, “Me too”
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I enjoy playing in my workshop, creating lovely things out of junk. I enjoy sailing, though I don’t sail nearly as much as I’d like to. The same can be said for many outdoor activities… I long for a good, solid hike; anywhere.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Consumerism, the quest of mediocrity, Facebook, Twitter… Ah hell, it’s all consumerism…
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS – AND WHY?
I have no phobias – I am a fiercely logical person, to my detriment and irritation, and therefore I rationalise anything that may be a phobia. I get nervous, even frightened sometimes, but it’s not irrational.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN? PLEASE ELABORATE.
I don’t know if I should say, but I guess it was years ago and I paid the price… I stole a yacht when I was 14 with the intention of sailing to the Maldives.
To this day I don’t know what I would have done if I had got there. I was four days into my journey when I was spotted by a tanker. A few hours later the Navy arrived and I was hauled back.
How I got out of being locked up, I’ll never know. Luckily the owner became a good friend and a mentor for me.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
It wasn’t actual advice, but rather a comment which has been my best lesson.
I was on the back of a bike, travelling through the Karoo on a tiny cement strip road, between one little dorpie and another. It was one of those roads where a car drives by once or twice a day.
The shock absorber worked its way loose from its mounting and the rod ended up sticking through the spring on the back wheel. We pulled off the road and looked at the mess which was spring and absorber; and knowing nothing was near and nobody would happen to drive past; the man I was travelling with said, “Shew, this is going to be a challenge”.
There was no loss of hope, no end-of-the-world, no panic. He took a potentially bad situation and made it an adventure. He was the same man who owned the yacht and became my mentor.
WHAT THOUGHTS ON REINCARNATION? AND IF YOU COULD CHOOSE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME BACK AS IN YOUR NEXT LIFE?
I fluctuate between beliefs. I guess I’m somewhat agnostic. It makes sense, though, that an energy reforms and returns. And it is comforting.
I reckon I’d like to come back as an eagle, but one with thoughts, memories, aspirations and a sense of wonder… Perhaps that’s too much to ask?
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
The world I created on a river bank. Observing life and altering it for my pleasure. The people I met and spoke to and their colourful existences.
FIVE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE SONGS?
That’s a difficult one. I keep discovering new lovely stuff. But I’ll give it a shot: For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Simon and Garfunkel; Baby Grand by Billy Joel and Ray Charles; Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen; Forever, For Now by Harry Connick jnr; and The Postmodern Jukebox version of Britney Spears’s Toxic.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Best: “You sounded like you were just speaking English” … a comment from someone who had just watched Hamlet in 2003. I played Horatio.
Worst: “You want to be an actor?” … not a compliment, but something that was asked (in amazement and disbelief) of me when I was a barman at some unmemorable place in East London.
WHAT IS THE MOST PAINFUL THING YOU HAVE ENDURED?
A kidney stone. I don’t think I need to elaborate – those who have experienced kidney stones will understand. It was during the run of our first Sleeping Beauty (KickstArt’s pantomime in 2006). I passed it in my pre-show wee, after spending the night in hospital… and in agony
HOW MUCH DO YOU READ – AND WHAT DO YOU ENJOY READING?
I don’t read. I’d like to be a reader, but I’m just not.