Theatre Interview

Anthony Biggs: Bringing South Africa to Jermyn Street

By | Published on Thursday 12 June 2014

Jermyn Street theatre is known for its interest in staging new and neglected plays and bringing them to the attention of a fresh audience. Their five week long season of all things South African very much reflects that in featuring new and revived works from South African authors, as well as a series of special events and discussions.

South Africa Season

The motivating force behind the season is Jermyn Street’s artistic director, Anthony Biggs. I sent him a few questions to find out more about what’s going on at the venue over the next few weeks.

CM: What made you decide to have a South African season at Jermyn Street?
AB: Jermyn Street Theatre is all about discovery and rediscovery. We like to put on plays that, whether new or old, are unfamiliar to our audiences. With 2014 being the 20th Anniversary of the dismantling of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president, I felt it was the right time to explore the world of South African theatre. This year is also the 20th Anniversary of Jermyn Street Theatre and I wanted to celebrate this by programming a bold and imaginative repertory season, the first time we have ever done something like this.

CM: Who has been involved in bringing it all together, and how were the shows chosen to be part of it?
AB: I am lucky that I have a wonderful team here at JST, but even they thought I was mad when I suggested this! Creating such an ambitious project at the West End’s smallest studio theatre has been a real challenge, but I didn’t want our size or our lack of funds to stop us from thinking big. So I have chosen plays that reflect the broad canopy of South African theatre over the last fifty years, with writers of different ages, sex, ethnicity, and experience represented. The season continues to grow, and I have recently added two emerging South Africa-based writers, Eliot Moleba and Amy Jephta, who have have just had plays read at the Royal Court Theatre.

CM: Which playwrights are featured in the festival? Are the plays by South Africans, or about South Africa…?
AB: Currently we are staging work by Athol Fugard, Reza de Wet, Basil Appollis, Janet Suzman, Jack Klaff, Doreen Mantle, Eliot Moleba, Amy Jephta, and the list continues to grow. All the writers and many of the performers are South African, and all the work is about South Africa. One of our writers/performers, Basil Appollis, is coming over from South Africa to perform his highly-acclaimed one-man show which has recently been a big hit at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town.

CM: Are all the plays you are staging revivals, or is there new work involved?
AB: This will be the first major revival of Statements in over twenty years, the first major production of Fever and the European Premiere of District 6. All the other work being performed in the season is new.

CM: Apparently there are a number of workshops and events to accompany the theatrical pieces, can you tell us about those?
AB: After the 4pm sunday performances on the 22nd June (Basil Appollis), 29th June (Janet Suzman) and 6th July (Doreen Mantle) we are hosting a series of special discussions with panellists including Audrey Brown of the BBC’s World Service and theatre journalist and critic Mark Shenton. This will be an opportunity to hear about some of the current issues facing South Africa today, and to add your own contribution to the debate.

CM: Is there any one event you are especially looking forward to?
AB: I directed Doreen Mantle in Ibsen’s Little Eyolf with Imogen Stubbs a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity for her to perform again at Jermyn Street Theatre. She is one of the most talented actresses I have had the pleasure of working with, and this intimate piece about her own experience of growing up in South Africa is a real treat.

CM: Is this a one off, or will there be similar seasons in the future?
AB: We already have a number of other seasons planned. This autumn we are staging a series of plays all first performed in the early 1930’s (including Terence Rattigan’s first play), and next year we will staging a season of rarely performed musicals.

Jermyn Street’s South African Season runs until 12 Jul. For more information and tickets see the venue website here or call 020 7434 1443.

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