Actor searches for truth in play

Nicky Rebelo, Jennifer Steyn and Graham Hopkins at the Baxter Theatre.

Having recently won the Fleur du Cap Best Actress award for her performance in Lara Foot’s The Inconvenience of Wings, Jennifer Steyn will tread the Baxter Theatre boards again, this time in Scenes from an Execution, until Saturday April 22.

This Muizenberg actress, born in George, received the coveted award on Sunday March 10 and was also nominated for her role of Norah in A Doll’s House. Both productions were staged at the Baxter last year.

This petite redhead is sure to bring the same energy and dynamism to the part of the rebellious artist Galactica who is commissioned to create a painting celebrating the triumph of the Battle of Lepanto.

Graham Hopkins as the Doge first performed the part in 1994, when the play was first seen in South Africa at the Market Theatre. Hopkins garnered an award as well as Clare Stopford who clinched an award for best director. Last year Stopford facilitated the Baxter’s hit production of The Fall.

Hopkins says it might have taken place in the 16th century but has parallels to modern day.

“In a way it’s a battle royal, driving a political message searching for integrity and truth,” he says.

“It was a big sea battle involving over 400 warships in which the Christian side suffered around 7 500 deaths, the Turkish side about 30 000. Ottoman Turks who wanted to take over western Europe for Islam, fighting against the Holy Alliance of Catholic Europe. In essence it’s the artist’s truth about war, versus the state’s need to portray the glory of victory” says Hopkins.

“It’s happened here, The Spear, a painting by Brett Murray that depicted Jacob Zuma in a pose reminiscent of Lenin, with his genitals exposed. It created a furore and debate as to how far government could move on how far artists may go. What the Venetians did then is the equivalent of the current dialogue around freedom of speech,” says Hopkins.

Steyn says the story is that of the elusiveness of truth and vibration and how truth is different for different people and is at the core of our world.

She says Galactica is a Renaissance woman, where few were successful. She stands in a man’s world and needs to be grounded, to stand firm, have a voice to paint what she wants. When fixed in an opinion she could become aggressive. “Some people in Constantia might say the story is arty farty, and playwright Howard Barker might agree,” says Steyn.

“And yet the play crackles and pops with antagonistic fire. It’s a sensual, visceral story,” she says, adding that there is also much humour.

And it is against this background that a fearless exploration of sexual politics and the timeless tension between personal ambition and moral responsibility, between the patron’s demands and the artist’s independence and the ugliness of slaughter, plays out.

Steyn says she is excited by what happened in the rehearsal room.

“There’s a wonderful mix of experienced actors with newcomers to the industry. It’s electric, the dance between younger and older actors. We are all being exposed to different techniques. It’s alive and will appeal to people from all walks of life from those working in gender based studies to politicians.”

Except for Steyn, Hopkins, Khathushelo Ramabulana and actor, writer, director Nicky Rebelo, who has been married to Steyn for 29 years, the rest of the cast, Cleo Raatus, Elizabeth Akudugu, Phoebe Ritchie and Lauren Blackwell, play multiple characters to bring the thrilling story to life. “And the language of the play, it’s beautifully written,” says Hopkins.

Set design is by Patrick Curtis, costume design by Leigh Bishop and set and props construction is by Nick Mayer.

Scenes from an Execution plays atthe Baxter Golden Arrow theatre, at 7.30pm nightly.

Ticket prices are R130 for previews and the matinee; R140 from Mondays to Thursdays; and R160 for Fridays and Saturdays. For discounted corporate, schools or block-bookings, charities or fundraisers, contact Sharon at 021 680 3962, or Carmen on 021 680 3993,

The Tatler is giving away two pairs of tickets to see Scenes from an Execution. To enter, SMS STExecution, with your name and contact details including your email address to 33258 before 10pm on Sunday April 9.

SMSes cost R1.50 each and winners will be notified telephonically.