Catch the fascinating play, ‘Travelling Light’, at Gateway’s Cinema Nouveau

2012-03-14 00:00

CAPE Town-born Nicholas Wright was inspired to write his new play, Travelling Light, because it was a story which resonated with his own life.

Like the main character, Motl Mendl, who leaves his Eastern European home for the bright lights of Hollywood, he left South Africa to pursue his career in Britain at the tender age of 18.

“It was 13 years before I went back to Cape Town,” he said. “In the eighties and nineties, I went back fairly frequently because I had a lot of family and friends there, but now I visit less often. I still try to get out there because my brother and sister-in-law still live in Durban.”

But he admits that when Travelling Light was conceived, he had no idea that the award-winning films, The Artist or Hugo, which also celebrate the early history of cinema, were due for release at the same time as his play.

Set in the 1900s, Travelling Light is a funny and fascinating tribute to the Eastern European immigrants who became major players in Hollywood’s golden age.

In it, Motl Mendl (Damien Molony) — now known as Maurice Montgomery (Paul Jesson) — looks back at his relationship with Jacob Bindel, the ebullient local timber merchant who funded his early film projects, and Anna Mazowiecka (Lauren O’Neil), the lovely young girl who helped him make moving pictures of their village.

“It’s very strange,” Wright says, “I can’t really explain it, but what’s even stranger is that it has happened to me before. I wrote a play about the Duchess of Windsor and shortly afterwards, there was a new bioghraphy about her, a television series, and Madonna’s film WE. I’m starting to feel that these things are more than just coincidence …”

Wright, who opened and ran the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, and was joint artistic director of the Royal Court, began acting as a child and trained at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda).

His plays include The Reporter, He’s Talking, Vincent in Brixton, Mrs Klein and The Last of the Duchess. He also wrote the libretto for the opera The Little Prince for Houston Grand Opera, and the libretto for the television opera Man on the Moon, which was screened on Channel 4, and three episodes of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (from the novels by Alexander McCall Smith) for the BBC.

Asked which, if any of his works, were his favourites, he said: “I think your favourite is always the last thing you’ve done ... so I guess that means Travelling Light. But I also loved Vincent in Brixton.” In the play, young artist Vincent van Gogh rents a room from, and falls in love with, an older widow in 1873 London.

And, as for whether or not one of his plays would be staged back home in South Africa in the near future, he said he is working on a play with a South African flavour, but wouldn’t give any details.

• Catch Travelling Light at Cinema Nouveau Gateway in Umhlanga, at 7.30 pm today and 7.30 pm tomorrow.

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