BILLY SUTER chats to vivacious Durban-based actress CARA ROBERTS, seen in such diverse successes as KickstArt’s Charlotte’s Web, ThinkTheatre’s Hamlet and Othello, and in a solo role in the highly acclaimed The King of Broken Things. Now she is back in a revival of KickstArt’s delightful 2020 comedy hit, Sylvia, starring again opposite Bryan Hiles, Liesl Coppin and Greg King, under King and Peter Court’s direction. Sylvia, a comedy by A R Gurney, first staged off-Broadway in 1996, is to be presented again at Durban’s intimate Seabrooke’s Theatre at DHS in St Thomas Road, from October 28 to November 14, weekends only. The production, designed by King, features costumes by Court and lighting by Michael Taylor-Broderick. Sylvia will be staged at 7pm on Thursdays and Fridays, 2.30pm and 7pm on Saturdays, and 2.30pm on Sundays. Tickets cost R175 each (R160 for pensioners). Booking is at Computicket.
SYLVIA IS ABOUT THE DOG OF THE SAME NAME, THE COUPLE THAT ADOPT HER AND THE COMEDY THAT RESULTS. WHAT IS ITS APPEAL AS A STAGE COMEDY – AND WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF YOUR TITLE ROLE?
Sylvia is beautifully chaotic, funny and poignant. Challenges for me have been many. I am new to comedy roles and not very confident in them (and roles where one must find the line between being a dog and a woman). However, Liesl, Greg, Peter and Bryan have taught me so much in terms of comedic timing… and other tricks along the way.
ANY SURPRISES, ANECDOTES OR OBSERVATIONS FROM THE REHEARSAL PROCESS?
A surprise was that I can be funny! And with a sudden change of cast two weeks into the original rehearsal process (more info about that must remain a mystery) I observed the brilliance of morphing and being good at it, a skill I have seen time and again in actors from Durban.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE THE PLAY?
After the many Covid-19 months, you will appreciate a good laugh and being transported into someone else’s story.
YOU ARE ON A ROLL OF LATE, YOUR PERFORMANCE IN MICHAEL TAYLOR-BRODERICK’S EXCELLENT THE KING OF BROKEN THINGS, ABOUT AN IMAGINATIVE BOY TRYING TO COPE WITH LOSS, HAVING WON YOU RAVE REVIEWS. THE WELL-TRAVELLED PLAY ALSO TOOK A STANDARD BANK GOLD OVATION AWARD AT THE 1020 NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL. WHAT COMMENTS ON THAT ROLE AND THAT PRODUCTION? ALSO, WHAT FUTURE PLANS FOR IT?
I love that story. I feel incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to bring the boy to life. I love playing boys and am so grateful Michael is such a sensitive director. We have now had the script translated into Afrikaans and the show might travel to ‘Woordefees’. We also have plans to take it to Bulgaria.
I AM NOT SURE HOW MANY PEOPLE KNOW YOU ARE THE DAUGHTER OF ACTORS IAN ROBERTS (Kalahari Oasis, Tsotsi) AND MICHELLE BOTES (the infamous Cherel in Isidingo and now in Legacy) – HOW BIG AN INFLUENCE WERE/ARE THEY ON YOUR ACTING CAREER AND WHAT DO YOU MOST ADMIRE ABOUT THEM?
My parents have been acting my whole life, and I found it wonderous to see the passion they had for their work. They have always been straight up about it, about the flack you can get, the struggles with finances at times, etc, etc.
They have also been constantly supportive and ready to give advice if I ask for it, but also incredibly respectful of MY path and MY choices.
In my mother, I admire her strength, grace, honesty and her commitment to her roles, on screen and in life. In my father, I admire his creativity, his wildness and his humour.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND SCHOOLED, WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU STUDY YOUR CRAFT AND WHO HAVE BEEN AMONG YOUR INFLUENCES?
I was born in Johannesburg General Hospital, in the water birthing unit. I went to school in Johannesburg, and later to boarding school in Grahamstown. I didn’t study acting. I went on two gap years, to the UK, where I worked a million different jobs.
I landed a small part in a little stage drama that was part of a tiny festival in Camden. The bug had bit, and I came home, got an agent and started working in a production office as an assistant. I took any job I could and learned a lot from meeting actors at castings, reading film books etc.
My influences are every single person I have worked with. You never stop learning.
WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST TIME EVER ON A STAGE – AND WHAT MEMORIES OF THAT EXPERIENCE? ALSO, WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL STAGE PERFORMANCE?
The little show in Camden. I remember the smell of beer, and that my leg wouldn’t stop shaking. I remember telling myself: “Just step on stage, you can’t die from this”. I still say that to myself when the nerves are high.
YOUR FIRST REAL LINK WITH DURBAN AND ACTING CAME WITH YOUR STARRING ROLE IN THE 2013 FILM, DURBAN POISON, BASED ON THE 1980S’ REAL-LIFE CRIME STORY OF THE COUPLE KNOWN AS SOUTH AFRICA’S BONNIE AND CLYDE, CHARMAINE PHILLIPS AND PIETER GRUNDLINGH. IT TOOK THE AWARD FOR BEST SOUTH AFRICAN FILM AT THE 34TH DURBAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCe.
I landed that role the year after I joined my agent in Joburg. I was called in for the casting, and then the callback, where Brandon Auret and I did scenes together.
That experience was phenomenal – and very scary. Andrew Worsdale is an incredibly generous director, and I loved every single person on that set. Yet I am still too afraid to watch it again… I was young and had a lot to learn!
HAVE YOU DONE, OR DO YOU PLAN, ANY OTHER FILM WORK?
I have done quite a bit of film work, and because it was where I started, it is my first love. So I hope there are more film roles to come. But for now, I am concentrating my energy on the foundation, theatre.
WHAT ARE AMONG TV AND STAGE SHOWS YOU APPEARED IN BEFORE LEAVING JOHANNESBURG TO SETTLE IN DURBAN?
I have officially been living in Durban for two-and-a half years. In Joburg, I didn’t do much theatre but TV, ads and film. TV credits include Dreamworld and Black Sails, and films include Durban Poison, Fynbos, Hatchet Hour and Shotgun Garfunkel.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO DURBAN AND WHAT HAS KEPT YOU BASED IN THIS CITY?
ThinkTheatre (Clare Mortimer and Margie Coppen) brought me to Durban. In 2014, I was offered the role of Desdemona in their production of Othello, and I have been with the company since. I got to know everyone, learned a lot and had great fun – and then wanted to do more theatre. So here I am!
OF ALL THE SHOWS YOU HAVE DONE TO DATE WHAT THREE HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN YOUR HEART?
The King Of Broken Things – I could play a boy. I met Michael Taylor-Broderick. We travelled overseas with the play. The response was so warm. We formed the Theatresmiths.
Charlotte’s Web – I got to perform on the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre stage. I used a microphone for the first time (I was so excited I ran up the wrong side of stage.). I loved the story as a child, and was blown away by
how Greg King brought it to life.
Othello – My first Shakespeare. I have always loved Shakespeare, and admire the way that Clare Mortimer makes the language so accessible. She spends a lot of time breaking the text apart, so that “The Big Scary Shakespeare” becomes a relatable story.
HOW HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU HAVING TO ADJUST TO LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS ON THEATRE – AND WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND HOPES FOR THIS CHAOS AFFECTING THE ARTS WORLD?
It has been crap! Really crap! Excuse my crassness. I am lucky to have food on the table and a roof over my head. A lot of people in our industry have not got that. It will take a long time to recover. But we will!
My hope is that we can fill houses again; that every single person who is part of this machine survives and has work again. My hope is that people can afford to watch shows again, and that the arts world will be recognised for the healing place it is.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM ROLE? AND WITH WHOM WOULD YOU MOST LOVE TO ACT?
Peter Pan. Scar from The Lion King. I would love to see Tilda Swinton or Helena Bonham Carter perform on stage (I would be soooooooo nervous to perform with them!). I would also like to act with one of my parents. I never get cast as my moms daughter!
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING OR OTHERWISE MEMORABLE MOMENTS ON STAGE?
One was playing Desdemona opposite Nhlakanipho Manqele as Othello, when his shoe broke on stage, in the middle of a scene. He had to follow me on my exit, and he walked towards me, trying to drag his broken sandal with him. I collapsed once I was off stage, and laughed until I couldn’t breathe anymore – and he had to carry on with the scene! I have a lot of admiration for that man.
Also, at the Hilton Arts Festival, there was a man who had had too much to drink. He got up halfway through the performance of The King of Broken Things and started shouting at his partner, stomped out and slammed the door. I had no idea what was going on and dried completely. I could not think of my next line. It was me, alone on stage, and a full, dead silent audience.
I turned away from the audience, considered walking off, then turned back to them – and as I did, a little old lady in the front row, with white curly hair and glasses, whispered: “ It’s okay, he’s gone… just carry on”. I remembered
where I was in the script and carried on.
To that dear lady, if you are reading this: THANK YOU.
WHAT FIVE WORDS WOULD YOU USE TO LIST YOUR STRENGTHS? AND WHAT ARE AMONG YOUR WEAKNESSES?I
Strengths? I. Can. Laugh. At. Myself. Weaknesses? Insecurity, overthinking things, smoking, trying to please everyone.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
I met Jessica Alba and Jack Black. I would give gold to meet Samuel L Jackson, Ingrid Jonker, Tilda Swinton and Paul Anderson.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I am an amateur collage creator. I love cutting up and sticking things. I write, but keep it secret. I love Babushka dolls and spinach. I used to do Highland Dancing, and loved it.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE’S SAID OF YOU?
“Why has your voice run out?”… Willow Miekle-Braes. She is the daughter of a close friend of mine. I have a husky voice. It was said TO me, so not OF me.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS – AND WHY?
Spiders. Because they are freaky! Once one bit me on my buttock and I had to go to hospital.
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
Not judging oneself. Not having to pay rent. Being barefoot. Toasted cheese and pesto sandwiches.
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
My brother fighting cancer. He is now in remission.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Ab fab: Spinach, sun, cats, travel and theatre. No-Nos: Violence, bobotie, manipulation, unmade beds, and being told what to do.
WHAT IS THE MOST PAINFUL THING YOU HAVE ENDURED?
A heavily overweight man fell on me at a bar in Joburg. My ankle was caught under a chair and twisted so badly that I tore every ligament and tendon. My ankle swelled out of my shoe in seconds. I was in a cast up to my knee for months.
I also, not too long ago, put my back out in rehearsals, leading to my first time at a chiropractor. I bet you it is because I had my 32nd birthday recently. Or because I didn’t warm up properly. Anyway, If anyone needs a brilliant chiro, Danella Lubbe is wonderful.
SOME PLANS AND/OR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
To travel. To act and travel. To become vegetarian again. To sing without fear.