Coming back home

2008-09-11 00:00

WAY back in 1993, one of the hits of the first ever Witness Hilton Festival (a very small affair compared to this year’s one) was The Show’s Not Over ’Til the Fat Lady Sings, with Jennie Reznek and Mark Fleischman. Now, for the first time since then, Reznek is coming back to perform in her home town, with Magnet Theatre’s Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking. Margaret von Klemperer spoke to her.

MvK: You grew up here in Pietermaritzburg. Where did the love of drama come from?

JR: Girls’ High didn’t offer drama when I was there, but I had private lessons with Colleen Orton. And then I went to the University of Cape Town to do a BA, with a performers’ course in drama. My mother was involved in amateur dramatics when I was growing up.

MvK: Your sister is a concert pianist, and you are an actress, so presumably your parents were supportive of you both choosing artistic careers.

JR: They were very supportive of everything we did as children — but I don’t think they expected their daughters to earn a living that way. They were fairly conventional in that they thought it was fine for us to do arty things, but that then we would marry people who would support us. I remember them being a bit shocked that this was the way I was going to earn a living. But Mark [Fleischmann, Reznek’s partner] is now head of drama at UCT [where Reznek also lectures in movement], and we have brought up two children, so it worked.

MvK: You studied mime at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris, and have worked as a clown and aerialist. What attracted you to that side of performing?

JR: When I left university, I worked with a company that was doing work with various communities, and we realised we needed to find a theatrical language that would speak to everyone — we used a lot of dance and physical stuff. I came across Jacques Lecoq’s Theatre de Mouvement and went there. We learned about how the body expresses itself — mime was one of the things we studied.

When I came back, Dream Circus was being created by someone who had been at UCT with me, and he asked me to come and be a clown. When I got there, he said it would be so nice if I would learn to work on the trapeze as well. I was 30, and terrified of heights, but he said I would be fine. I was quite strong — I had always done ballet — and co-ordinated, but I did have to get over the height thing.

And Magnet Theatre’s intention is to base language in the body — we do use text, but the dominant means of communication is the body. Clowning and physical comedy are easily accessible theatre — laughter cuts across differences.

MvK: Tell us something about Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking.

JR: On one level it’s about refugees, a girl and her mother forced to leave home and journey through Africa to Cape Town, and not getting much of a welcome. It came about in 2006, when Somalians were first attacked in Philipi in the Cape, and it looks at issues of xenophobia, racism and also about losing your home.

The year my father died, I had to pack up my childhood home in Pietermaritzburg, and I have those thoughts of what it is like to lose a home. It contains something of that sense of loss, although it is a more brutal loss in the play.

It is a poetic, moving piece, but there is a strong sense of humour balanced with it. People have said it changes the way they feel about things. It appeals to teenagers as well — we’ve had a great response from high school audiences. We’ve performed in Cameroon, at the National Arts Festival, the Baxter, the Market, at the London International Festival of Theatre this year, and have done special performances in aid of refugees. And wherever we have taken it, it has really captured attention — and hearts.

MvK: And how does it feel to be coming back home?

JR: It has been a long time since I performed here — I would have loved to come back and do it when my parents were alive. But it feels very special.

• There are performances of Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival at 4 pm on Friday and 3.45 pm on Saturday. Programmes and booking kits are available at all major Spar outlets in KwaZulu-Natal; Exclusive Books at the Liberty Midlands Mall and the Pavilion; Bookworld at Cascades; Adams Books in the Musgrave Centre; The Witness offices; the Hilton College theatre; and on the website

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