Two Interviews: Juliet Jenkin & Diane Wilson

5 Oct

I recently conducted interviews with playwright Juliet Jenkin and actress Diane Wilson about the new play, “Mary and the Conqueror.” The interviews were intended for a new arts magazine that was supposed to be launched at the end of September. But seeing as I never heard back from the editor, about remuneration or the articles being published, I’ve posted it on this blog (yes, the one you’re reading right now, pal.) I hope you enjoy the now free-for-all-to-read interviews and please forgive the lack of bile… This was intended for mass (go with it) circulation.


An Interview With Juliet Jenkin

 

Juliet Jenkin is a Cape Town based playwright and actress and has proven to be one of the most prolific young playwrights in South Africa. Her plays in include “The Boy Who Fell From The Roof”, “The Night Doctor” and “Poisson”. Her new play, “Mary and the Conqueror”, concerns the life and work of Mary Renualt, an English writer who moved to South Africa in 1949 and made a name for herself by writing historical and fictional novels about Alexander the Great.

 

At the recent Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) Conference on Directors and Directing, an argument arose amongst the attendees and panelists that the theater industry is facing a writing crisis. It was put forward that not enough good local writing is being produced and that the industry suffers from a lack of decent writers. Do you agree?

JJ: Yes. No. Well, I agree that there are not many playwrights around. Playwriting in a traditional, literary sense. A sit-down-and-type-out-10 000-words sense. Considering the number of people who actually work in theatre, and the number of people who actually watch theatre, I think the number of decent writers is pretty decent. You know, someone will make that comment at the GIPCA thing, and all the directors in the country will be there saying, “Where are the good writers?” And then everyone in the audience will say fuck you, I’m a good writer! Where are the good actors? And the actors will all be at a KFC casting or something.

You recently told me that you’re considering taking a break from writing plays to keep yourself busy with other pursuits (like acting, one would presume.) Can I ask why you feel you need to take a break?

JJ: If you’re trying to tell your friend a story, and your friend won’t listen to what you’re saying, you should probably stop talking to your friend. For a while, anyway.

You’ve made a name for yourself as a writer and an actress and an all-round practitioner of theater. Is there one discipline in your arsenal that you prefer over the others or is there a balance between the things you do?

JJ: I don’t have a preference. I understand acting through writing, and writing through acting.

Your new play, Mary and the Conqueror, is directed by Roy Sargeant and you seem to have developed a productive professional and artistic relationship with him over the years. Can you speak about your relationship?

JJ: Roy produced and directed my first play The Boy Who Fell From The Roof in 2005. Since then, I’ve worked with him on several productions as a writer and actor. We’re very different people, but we have a weird sort of simpatico on a lot of levels. He’s been an unfailing supporter of my work, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Diane Wilson is acting in Mary and the Conqueror and she says this might be her swansong. Have you had discussions with her about your play and if so, what can you tell me about your relationship with her?

JJ: Really? I didn’t know this was her last play. Actresses are always saying that. Like I’m saying this is my last play. Well, I’m not, but maybe I should. I had a brief discussion with Di, I think. I sat in on a read- through of the play a while ago. And then we talked in a lift about her kids. I don’t know her very well, but I think she’s glorious. And she thinks the same about me. Obviously.

How did Mary and the Conqueror come to be?

JJ: I was commissioned to write the play by Roy Sargeant in 2009. He was a personal friend of Mary Renault and her partner, Julie Mullard. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a commissioned work, or a biographical play for that matter, and I had initial trepidations about it – I’m not a huge fan of biographies in any form. But I went ahead and researched her life as far as I could. I interviewed Roy Sargeant and Owen Murray – an ex-ballet dancer and friend of Mary and Julie’s. I read the only biography on Mary Renault and most of her novels. In her trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great, I found the angle I wanted to approach the play from. I decided that instead of focusing the work on a chronological life-narrative, I’d intersect her story with the story of her beloved Classical hero. So, the play became not only the story of two lives, but a symbolic or existential musing on stories themselves – how we create and recreate the stories of ourselves and our histories. In an introduction to one of her essays, Mary wrote “We go to the past, perhaps to find ourselves, perhaps to free ourselves.” Essentially that is what the play is exploring.

 

***

 

 An Interview with Diane Wilson

In Juliet Jenkin’s new play, “Mary and the Conqueror”, legendary stage actress Diane Wilson will portray Mary Renualt, the English born writer who moved to South Africa in 1949 and wrote seminal works on the life of Alexander the Great. The play explores her relationship with her partner, Julie Mullard and her fascination with the Macedonian emperor.  

You indicated to me recently that Mary and the Conqueror might be your swansong. Are you retiring after this production?

DW: Learning lines for a new production is becoming increasingly difficult. Once I have learnt them I can recall them more easily for repeat productions but that initial learning is such drudgery that I am beginning to question if it is worth the effort.

The little contact we’ve had has given me the impression that you have no time for the pretentiousness that the theater industry is so often accused of being swamped with. Am I right? Can you speak to that?

DW: I can honestly say that I don’t seem to be cast by pretentious people. I don’t know if the industry is swamped or not. I have seen a lot of productions that I have disliked for various reasons; usually for what I considered appalling casting. There are so many brilliant actors in Cape Town who are teaching to make a living. I have been told that Lara Foot has been quoted as saying there are no good actors in Cape Town. How would she know, because she never sees other people’s productions? The appalling casting I have seen, by the way, is usually with actors imported from elsewhere.

Some believe that the theater industry is in crisis and that good work is often strangled by complacency and a need to pander to the lowest common denominator. As someone who has, presumably, seen it all and done it all, do you find this to be true? Where is the industry headed and what can be done to improve it?

DW: Unfortunately theatre has always pandered to what the public wants. This is true all over the world except in subsidized theatre, which we don’t have any more. It was nice when we did have it and the cream of plays from London and New York were being produced here.

How did you get involved with Mary and the Conqueror?

DW: Roy Sargeant cast me as Mary Renault. I had suggested her as a theme for a play for the Dublin Gay Festival a few years ago. Roy then commissioned Juliet Jenkin to write the play.

You have a long-standing professional relationship with Roy Sargeant. Is there something specific that draws you to him as a director?

DW: We respect each other. He thinks I am a very good actor. I think he is a

very good director. He has a very open mind. I constantly question things as an actor. He is not bothered by this, in fact he enjoys it. He has a fine and educated mind. We have a similar sense of humour.

Can you talk about the rehearsal process for Mary and the Conqueror?

DW: I adore the rehearsal process. It is always interesting. This time round we have two young men (Armand Aucamp and Francis Chouler) who I think are marvelous. Hard working, very talented with a wonderful attitudes and great sense of humour. I have not worked with Adrienne Pearce before and I think she is perfect for the part of Julie Mullard, Mary Renault’s partner. The only problem is that we are rehearsing in the middle of an extremely noisy construction site which makes concentration difficult, but we are coping.

Is there something you still yearn for in your career? A specific role or the work of a writer you always wanted to be involved in?

DW: I don’t yearn for anything. At the age of 70, I am grateful to be alive and healthy and to have any work offered me at all.

“Mary and the Conqueror”

 

Directed by Roy Sargeant

 

Written by Juliet Jenkin

 

Starring:

Diane Wilson

Adrienne Pearce

Armand Aucamp

Francis Chouler

 

29 September – 15 October

Artscape Arena

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2 Responses to “Two Interviews: Juliet Jenkin & Diane Wilson”

  1. Kate Liquorish October 8, 2011 at 09:29 #

    Great interviews. Great insight. Great people. You need to be payed for this.

  2. Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 13:24 #

    Where art thou?

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