BILLY SUTER interviews award-winning Durban playwright CLINTON MARIUS about a number of interesting things – including his latest stage work for children, Going… Going, to be presented at 9.30am and 11.30am on Thursday, December 5, at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Cunningham Road, Umbilo, Durban.The 45-minute play centres on an orphaned rhino that finds his identity through colourful storytelling, vibrant song and puppets. All funds go to Project Rhino. It is staged by Eden College’s Drama Department and directed by Jean van Elden. To book, or for more details, phone Roland at 082 499 8636.
WHEN AND WHERE WAS “GOING, GOING” FIRST STAGED – AND WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR IT?
Going… Going was created as part of my Courtyard Quartet, four plays written for the second Durban University of Technology Children’s Festival at the Couryard Theatre in 2012. (Another play from the quartet, Calf With No Name, is published annually in Maskew Miller’s Grade 8 Platinum Reader) Going… Going… was then invited to the following year’s Word Fest at St Charles.
I was motivated by the tragic rhino problem, and inspired by a well-known and heartbreaking picture of a baby rhino protecting its dead mother. I don’t know who took it.
Acting for Rhinos and Jean Van Elden, of Eden College, have taken on the play as their own, and I have nothing else to do with it. I gave them permission to alter, direct and stage it as they saw fit, and I take no royalties for the piece.
WHAT WERE YOU MOST RECENTLY INVOLVED WITH, SHOWBIZ -WISE, AND WHAT NEXT FOR YOU?
The last plays staged were Salon Sue, a solo work for Maeshni Naicker, and White Christmas, with Jonathan Cohen. Writing White Christmas, a semi-autobiographical piece, was like tearing my heart out and putting it on display, and the experience was also extremely demanding of Jonathan. He poured his everything into the role, and I am so proud of his bravery.
After Salon Sue I had planned my next children’s production, Pirates of the Cocoa Bean, and has hoped to work on a dance-drama, Jewel in the Lotus, with Sivani Chinappan. This is taking longer than expected, because it’s an entirely new direction for me. I had also planned a jolly comedy about being different, for Jonathan Cohen, titled Fabulous!
However, I have put the brakes on producing any new works for the foreseeable future, and am only staging productions from our back catalogue that are specifically invited by a venue or promoter.
We can’t afford to take risks with new work at this point, and also a dearth of suitable small theatres in Durban has created a logistical problem. At present I’m concentrating on a book I’ve been working on for a few years.
WHAT NEXT FOR MAESHNI NAICKER AND “SALON SUE”?
We hope to tour Salon Sue, and to start an online podcast based on the production.
HOW MANY PLAYS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND WHICH TWO ARE STANDOUTS FOR YOU?
I have written 24 plays so far. White Christmas, as mentioned, has personal significance; and B!#ch Stole My Doek also stands out for me. It was a runaway hit that introduced the astoundingly funny Shona Johnson to a wider audience.
HOW MANY AWARDS HAVE YOU WON… AND OF WHICH ARE YOU MOST PROUD ?
I’ve won several awards.I’m not sure of the exact number. I am most proud of our Standard Bank Ovation Award for B!*ch Stole My Doek.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO WRITING FOR THEATRE …AND HOW DID ‘LOLLIPOP LANE’, THE LONG-RUNNING RADIO SERIAL YOU WRITE FOR LOTUS5M, COME ABOUT?
My introduction to professional theatre was at the age of 12, singing the lead role in Menotti’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. I was 14 when I wrote my first play.
I owe so much to four people who have determined the course of my life: My mother, because who are we without our mums; my amazing partners, William Charlton-Perkins and Riaan Timson at Copy Dog; and mentor, Caroline Smart.
Caroline directed my first work, the dark drama, Vergissmeinnicht, in 2003. In 2008, she encouraged me to submit an idea for radio. I was terrified. I had no idea how to write for the medium, but her guidance resulted in Lollipop Lane.
ANY OTHER RADIO WORK PLANNED FROM YOU – AND HOW DIFFERENT ARE THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF CREATING RADIO AND THEATRE SCRIPTS?
I love writing for radio, so I’m open to offers. Writing for radio and stage is vastly different. On stage, the action is heard AND seen. On radio, the action is heard only.
Things that are taken for granted on stage have to be fleshed out on air. On stage we see the character enter, how they walk, what they wear, what their expressions are, and we know what the setting looks like.
On air, these nuances must be alluded to in the dialogue, and supported by sound effects. These sounds are as challenging as the script.
I wrote an historical drama series for LotusFM called All That Glitters. Set in 7th century India, the drama required the sourcing of an enormous catalogue of sound effects, including elephants, camels, horses, dogs, tigers, peacocks, chariots, boats, sword and arrow battles, catapults, rivers, waterfalls, jungles, temples, fires, and more.
Writing for radio is more challenging, but very rewarding. Yet nothing beats the thrill of live theatre!
GIVE ME SOME INDICATION OF THE VARIED ROLES (AND PRODUCTIONS) FEATURING YOU AS AN ACTOR OVER THE YEARS – AND HAVE YOU GIVEN UP ACTING FOR WRITING?
I regard myself as a writer who started out having to perform his own material. Before putting myself on stage, I usually only appeared in supporting roles, or was buried at the back of the chorus.
Most of these early productions were in Pietermaritzburg, with a few in Durban: Bar & Ger (as Bar), Dog’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth (as Macbeth), Good Person of Sechuan (as Wang the Water Seller), Pirates of Penzance (in chorus), Esther (in chorus), A Christmas Carol (As Spirit of Christmas Past), Mutatis Mutandis (as Celia), Othello (as Duke), and Shades of Marguerite Poland (as a ghost).
The roles I created for myself included The Divine Child, Vergissmeinnicht, Uncut – The Penis Monologues, Guru and Thank You Very Much.
Evolving into writing for other people has been the most rewarding journey. I now know that I prefer to write for others, and to stay in the wings.
I am, however, considering a return to stage for one last turn in a one-man show…
ANY UNFULFILLED AMBITIONS OR DREAMS?
I wish only to do my small bit to brighten the world, one laugh at a time.
I would also love to travel to India, but I’m not sure if I would want to come back home! I’d also like to go back to Venice, which I found to be the most romantic city on Earth.
I won’t be returning to Singapore. I never paid that fine for picking an orchid in Changi Airport…
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Creative. Compassionate. Opinionated. Honest. Unhinged.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I’m a multi-lingual, three-nippled vegetarian Buddhist, with a green belt in judo.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
Performing naked (in The Penis Monologues).
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
The most famous person I have met was Alan Paton. I was 17. He was grumpy.
I have been in the close presence of HH The Dalai Lama on three occasions, but I would give anything to commune with him one-on-one. He is the greatest role-model a person could hope to have.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
Writing is such a passion for me that I spend most of my time tapping away at the keyboard. When I’m not writing, I love to spend time with family and friends. also, I am addicted to Netflix, and am mad about early 20th Century watercolours.
I am writing a biography about the British artist, Sydney Carter, who spent his twilight years painting the natural beauty of South Africa. I spend most of my earnings acquiring his art!
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
I’ve chosen people: The Kardashians. Gwyneth Paltrow. Madonna. Kristen Stewart. The Duchess of Cornwall.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
You look like Tilda Swinton.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS – AND WHY?
Open buffets and food displays in supermarkets. The thought of dozens of people coughing and wheezing over everything makes my toes curl.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN? PLEASE ELABORATE.
I resented being conscripted at 18 into the apartheid government’s army. I tried to buck against the system by being outspoken and uncooperative. The military framed a co-conspirator and me with trumped-up charges. I spent six weeks in a military prison. It was hell.
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
Innocence. Being overjoyed by the smallest things, such as flowers and animals. Believing that one day all South Africans would be equal.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
The best compliment I have received was from a theatre critic who said that all else faded away when I was on stage, and I was all that mattered in that moment. I think he was on drugs.
The worst ‘compliment’ I have received was from another critic, who stated that some other writer she admired had more talent in a pinkyfinger than I had in my entire body. She was definitely on drugs.