BILLY SUTER interviews award-winning Durban playwright CLINTON MARIUS about a number of interesting things – including his latest stage work, Salon Sue, a comedy about hair stylists and their clients, which runs from July 28 to 30 at the iZulu Theatre at Sibaya Casino, near Umhlanga. It stars Maeshni Naicker in her debut solo work, directed by Marius, who also wrote the LotusFM serial, Lollipop Lane. Tickets for Salon Sue cost R120. Performances are at 8pm on the Friday and Saturday, and 3pm on the Sunday. Booking is at Computicket outlets.
WHAT, BRIEFLY, IS “SALON SUE” ABOUT – AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE IT?
Salon Sue is a comedy about hair salons, with the focus on one very loud and opinionated hairstylist and her clients. Anyone who has seen Maeshni Naicker perform will know that it’s worth coming along to laugh with her.
THE PLAY MARKS THE FIRST SOLO WORK BY MAESHNI? TELL US MORE ABOUT HER PAST SUCCESS AND THE WAY SHE HAS TACKLED THE ROLE?
Maeshni has a string of movie credits, including Broken Promises, Florida Road, Curse of Highway Sheila and Keeping Up with the Kandasamys; as well as numerous radio and ensemble stage credits. She is also well known on the stand-up comedy circuit, but Salon Sue will be the first solo appearance in a full-length comedy. Maeshni is tackling the role with gusto, but is understandably nervous about this big new step.
HOW DID THE PLAY COME ABOUT… AND WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION?
Most of us count our hairdressers as friend, confidante and sounding board. They usually have an armoury of gossip and witty anecdotes to share, and Salon Sue is a tribute to these colourful personalities.
YOU ARE ALSO DIRECTING THIS PLAY – WHAT WAS THE WORKING RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH MAESNHI, AND HOW MUCH FREE REIN DID SHE HAVE CREATING HER CHARACTER?
I have worked with Maeshni for a number of years, and on several projects. I have enormous respect for her talent, and also her down-to-earth attitude. The characters are limited before her comedic skills bring them to life, so – yes, we create the characters together. Work seems more like play. (Her mum, Veda, makes the most delicious food, to keep us going…)
WHAT WERE YOU MOST RECENTLY INVOVED WITH, SHOWBIZ -WISE, AND WHAT NEXT FOR YOU?
The last play staged was White Christmas, with Jonathan Cohen. Writing this 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 head straight into rehearsal for my next children’s production, Pirates of the Cocoa Bean, which has been invited to the St Charles Word Fest in September.
I am also working 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!
Following this is a jolly comedy about being different, for Jonathan Cohen, titled Fabulous!
WHAT NEXT FOR MAESHNI?
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 THE RADIO LINK AND ‘LOLLIPOP LANE’, 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.