Play explores light side of dementia

Actresses Amy Louise Wilson of Newlands and Anthea Thompson of Rondebosch chat about what audiences can expect when they buy a ticket to watch The Father at The Fugard Studio Theatre.

Actresses Amy Lousie Wilson of Newlands and Anthea Thompson of Rondebosch will walk the boards in the West End and Broadway hit play The Father at The Fugard Studio Theatre from Tuesday November 8 until Tuesday December 3.

The play offers audiences a funny, sad and poignant roller-coaster exploration of dementia and the frailty of the human mind.

Ms Wilson, 25, said the acting bug bit when she was still a baby and her mother, Helen, a former high school drama teacher, used to take her to the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. “I grew up in the theatre environment and I always knew that I wanted to become an actress. It was this or nothing else,” she quipped.

After matriculating from St Theresa’s Convent School in Johannesburg, she went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown and completed an acting degree and following that an honours degree in acting from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2012.

She said her big break came a month after graduating from UCT. “I got a role in a Warner Brother’s movie Sophia Grace and Rosie’s Royal Adventure. I have been in The Book of Negroes; Of Kings and Prophets and a Cinderella Story which came out a few months ago. I still kept on doing theatre, during these movie roles and this is my first time working with director Greg Karvellas,” she said.

Ms Wilson said audiences can look forward to a beautifully written play in The Father. “It’s always a pleasure to see veteran actors like Marius Weyers and Anthea Thompson on stage. It a real treat and amazing to see him (Mr Weyers) in a role like this and even though the subject matter is quite difficult – there is a lot of trauma and tragedy – there is also a lot of humour in the play and I think anyone who has dealt with a family member who has dementia will relate to it.”

Ms Wilson said her grandmother suffers from dementia and when she visits her she thinks she is a nurse which is coincidental as she plays a nurse in the play. “Many of us in the cast have family members who are suffering with the illness in some form or another and I think it will resonate with the audiences as well,” she said.

She relayed a few pearls of wisdom to aspiring actors. “This is a difficult piece of advice to follow but even though you might be inexperienced when you start out in the industry, you don’t have to say yes to everything. My advice to them is focus on the work, drown out the noise and keep on creating opportunities for yourself.”

Veteran actress Thompson, who many will recognise from My Briljante Egskeiding, Shirley Valentine and Madam and Eve, plays Anne the daughter of The Father (Mr Weyers). Ms Thompson said she knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in the creative arts. “When I got eight percent for maths in Grade 10 I knew I wasn’t destined to become an actuary. I was a fairly dramatic child and my parents encouraged me in that direction,” she joked.

After matric, she obtained a performance diploma in speech and drama from UCT. Commenting on her big break, Ms Thompson said: “There was one thing that led to another. In the 1990s, there was revival of bands doing tributes to the various decades. My colleague and I decided to pander to this new wave of musicals and place music into our sketch shows. We were very lucky get a slot at the Artscape Theatre during the period when Madonna released Erotica and we called our piece Neurotica. At the time, one of the top musical directors in the country, Charl-Johan Lingenfelder was reworking Almost the Sound of Music and needed a replacement for the character Maria. “They were looking for a new Maria and I was put forward for an audition. I got the part and I remember getting that phone call and literally putting the phone down and throwing myself on the floor and screaming out of pure joy. My career snowballed from there,” she said.

Talking about her latest performance, she said the title of the play is The Father but it’s a “tragic farce”. “One might presume, it’s going to be this traumatic experience but it has these wonderful moments of light-heartedness. The audience can expect to gain insight into what it must be like to have dementia. The set lends itself to the theme and pushes forward the narrative of dementia.

“My mother has dementia and I have to tell there are times when she makes me laugh outrageously because she will do something that is just purely her. She always had a naughty sense of humour; so I would laugh, not at her but with her. Out of respect and love for who she was. The audience gets a very clear understanding of what it is like to be in the mind of somebody who has dementia,” she said.

Ms Thompson said there are many different aspects to the arts: writing and directing. “Those who want to enter the profession can start off by pursuing it as an extra-curricular activity. I would suggest they go onto the internet and look for writing and drama groups. There are enough groups out there developing actors, writers and directors. Curiosity is a key feeling to have when wanting to enter into the arts and if they do end up writing your observations of people will add an element of authenticity to your pieces,” she said.

Tickets range from between R130 and R160. Call 021 461 4554 to book.