Pitch perfect expression

2010-05-15 16:15

The Boys in the Photograph is a mega-musical.

This becomes clear as I begin meandering through the ­labyrinthine belly of the

Joburg Theatre to witness its makers and cast in rehearsal.

On arriving backstage where this theatrical event is in rehearsal,

there’s a buzz of ­excitement in the air and it’s easy to see why this show has

been dubbed the most anticipated ­theatrical production of the year.

The scene looks like a Jackson Pollock frame: bodies clad in black,

purple or gray tights paired with orange, blue and some green vests – all strewn

along a ­mobile plinth: Actors quietly stretching and warming up as they wait

for instructions.

The director, Janice Honeyman, can’t be bothered with ­platitudes

of fawning journalists gathered in her name. There’s ­serious work to be

done.

She wears a markedly studied and reticent demeanour, brooding and

hunched over a pile of ­papers and a silver microphone.

Honeyman gazes at this world from behind a pair of ­round-framed

spectacles and speaks with a grave, instructive voice: “Ok guys, I want you in

the moment, don’t just work the ­emotion and then get the text right,” she says,

then stresses the need to “tighten the pace”.

After all, this musical relies heavily on the actors neatly

­dovetailing the pace of football, song and dance with the ­emotions of

conflict, death and the triumph of love.

The musical is set in the ­Northern ­Ireland city of Belfast during

the late 60s and early 70s amid the gory violence that saw the ­country divided

along ­sectarian lines.

It looks at how the game of football managed to help sustain and

heal the spirits of a battered people and it’s a story of conflict and violence

that saw many lose their lives and their loved ones.

Honeyman says she hopes the story will “resonate with South African

audiences”.

Having stolen a short moment to chat, she says: “Just like us here

in South Africa, Belfast has had its miracle and so our ­societies are in a way

similar.”

In the late 1970s South Africa was itself plunged into violence as

schoolchildren took to the streets in protest against ­apartheid. So the

relationship ­between the two situations is ­obvious.

This is part of what attracted prolific actor Sibu Radebe to the

production.

Known for his roles in Hairspray, Pinocchio and Beauty and The

Beast, this seasoned Honeyman collaborator is cast as the dodgy Daniel

­Gillen.

He says he was sold on the production by the story because it

“could happen anywhere” and “the youthfulness of its Irish heroes”, adding that

it lends itself very easily to the South African ­setting.

But the director says even though she had carte blanche to do as

she wished with the story, “it made sense to keep it set in Ireland”.

The music is very Irish and couldn’t be translated into South

African, she says, though she ­believes this doesn’t detract from its

universality.

The powerful music enlisted here is the result of the genius and

alchemy of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s ­penmanship.

The hymns and anthems ­combined with football’s ­physicality

created a specific ­requirement in the way the cast was chosen.

Honeyman says: “They couldn’t just be great ­actors or great

­singers or dancers alone.

“I needed them to be great at all three.”

Her need for perfection is ­informed by more than the show’s 2010

Fifa World Cup ­relationship. It’s an expensive project too, budgeted at a total

cost of R10.6million.

Props and costumes that will help illuminate the ­story are said to

cost R2.6million – all spent ­locally.

The rest is bread for a ­squadron of 59 creative artists who are

convened for 98 days to slog for a combined 5782 hours.

The Boys in the Photograph ­began its life as The Beautiful Game

and ran for a year on ­London’s West End from ­September 2000.

Honeyman’s re-titled take on it is based on an adaptation by the

original writers.

It had its world premiere last year in Winnipeg, Canada, and was

directed by Ben Elton.

» The Boys in the Photograph will have its official opening

night at The Mandela at Joburg Theatre on May 23 and will run until July 11


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