Residents star in play about racial tensions

Simon Thompson as Lieutenant Joseph Cable and Laura-Jo Diedericks as Liat. Image by James Maritz.

Four southern suburbs actors will be walking the boards when G&S stages Rodgers & Hammerstein’s hit musical, South Pacific, from Saturday July 20 to Saturday August 10 at the Artscape Theatre.

The story revolves around American nurses and sailors stationed on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. Nellie, a spunky nurse from Arkansas, falls in love with Emile, a French expat, while Lieutenant Joseph Cable finds himself in a passionate relationship with Liat, a local islander. As the war against Japan escalates, both Nellie and Joseph have to confront their long-held racial prejudices to save their unconventional relationships.

Director Kyla Thorburn, from Edgemead, has been preparing for over four months and says it is challenging to manage a large cast of around 70 members.

“Everyone has day jobs, many of the young cast are students, though the young cast does bring a lot of energy,” she said.

Laura-Jo Diedericks, 29, from Pinelands, is making her stage debut in community theatre in the role of Liat.

Ms Diedericks works closely with Simon Thompson who plays Lieutenant Joseph Cable.

“The chemistry has been good with Simon, he is easy to work with and as time has gone on we have become more comfortable with what works for us compared to what works for the other cast,” she said.

Ms Diedericks is currently a full-time teacher at Wynberg Boys’ High School. She has always been passionate about ballet and contemporary dance and will be able to put her dancing talents to use in this musical.

Mr Thompson, 23, from Rondebosch, was involved in plays during his high school years at Bishops.

His favourite role was playing the title character in The Great Gatsby. He had previously acted in Wizard of Oz in 2017 and Snoopy: The Musical in 2018 with G&S.

“Laura-Jo and I are really comfortable in ourselves as people, whatever we do onstage or whether we are acting it comes easy,” he said.

Charlene Martin, 60, from Kenwyn, plays the over protective mother of Liat, Bloody Mary. Ms Martin is a gospel singer and was drawn to the character and the subject matter of the play.

“This play has something to say, we are not just here to dance and sing and give people a good time, this play is an account of something that really happened, because it’s real and spoke to real issues, that spoke to my heart,” she says.

Neil Leachman, 43, from Zonnebloem, has the important responsibility of being the assistant director and he also plays the role of Luther Billis, who provides comic relief, and is in love with the lead character, Nellie Forbush portrayed by Andrea Fourie.

Mr Leachman says at times he felt alienated as the assistant director. “As a cast, they generally spend a lot of time together, they do a lot of things together and they sit together, as a director, you are sitting away from them, looking at them, trying to help them with their performance,” he said.

Mr Leachman says he is going to take a break from plays as he has previously directed The Producers in 2018 and earlier this year, Hairspray.

Ms Thorburn, who has directed plays like Annie, The King and I and My Fair Lady at the Artscape, says this play looks at issues of prejudice.

“We will try to get the audience totally absorbed in the theatre, where they cry and laugh at the same time, there are political parts, its gonna have an emotional effect,” she said.

South Pacific features well-known songs such as Some Enchanted Evening, There’s Nothing Like A Dame, Bali Hai and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.

Tickets cost from R140 to R290. Book through Computicket.