BWW Interview: Internationally Acclaimed Director Nicolas Kent on Bringing HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) to The Fugard
Welcoming 2019 with a heartwarming rom-com, HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) is the latest adaption by David Kramer brought to the Fugard stage. Starring Bianca Flanders and Dean Balie, the play follows two out-of-luck and out-of-love souls in a hilarious and captivating whirlwind adventure of a weekend. Nicolas Kent, the London-based, award-winning director at the helm of the production, chats to Broadway World South Africa about his directorial beginnings at university, international aspirations, and involvement in this anticipated production.
BWW: To start off with, how did you get involved in directing in the first place at The Liverpool Playhouse?
Nicolas: I directed and produced plays while I was studying at Cambridge University and was fascinated by the process. I applied for a scholarship to join a regional rep trainee scheme, where ABC TV sent six people to rep theatres and that's how I joined The Liverpool Playhouse. I then had a wonderful few years in the early part of my career working on different plays in rep touring England.
Did you ever think your artistic contribution would bring you to South Africa? Or was there always an "international goal" in your career?
Nicolas: I have always been interested in politics and politics presented through theatre, as well as how we are living and the situation in the world. A lot of my work has been around wars of liberation such as in Afghanistan, Ireland and South Africa. I have had a long standing connection with South Africa through my association at The Tricyle Theatre in London and not only brought a number of David Kramer productions to London, but I also worked with Barney Simon and the Market Theatre.
How do your early experiences in British theatre now compare with directing in South Africa in the 21st century?
Nicolas: It's been a long journey. My work has generally included a focus on injustice and human rights however HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) is neither of those. It is a rom-com, a celebration of love and of Cape Town. The original was set in Edinburgh and it seemed pointless to have two South African actors speaking in Scottish accents set in a foreign city, but with David Kramer's wonderful adaptation and Bianca and Dean's interpretation, this universal human story will resonate with local audiences as an ode to Cape Town and its people.
Getting to HAPPY NEW YEAR, what draws you to working with David Kramer?
Nicolas: We are great friends and have known each other for 21 years. We have collaborated before but mostly with me bringing David's South African work to the UK and I thought it would be interesting find something we could adapt for South Africa. When I saw the original MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS) by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre, from which HAPPY NEW YEAR is adapted, I knew this would be the perfect choice. I also know David Greig and knew that he would be upset if it was done with white South African actors and NOT adapted for a local setting and so he was supportive in obtaining the rights to present it at The Fugard Theatre.
What was your first impression on being introduced to the script of HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS)?
Nicolas: I saw the production in Edinburgh and Washington and loved it so we presented it at The Tricycle Theatre. People respond to it - it's a real crowd pleaser - great fun with these two loveable but flawed characters who find their way to a happy ending.
Working with locals Bianca Flanders and Dean Balie, do you find it different to working with British actors?
Nicholas: The process is not wildly different - I think we have perhaps worked faster. Dean and Bianca were incredibly prepared and had done their homework and knew the script before we started rehearsals and they have been a joy to work with. Their contributions have been enormous and a great input to the overall creative process. They also come from a musical background which, with all the fantastic songs in the play, has been a great help. I have seen Dean's work before and loved it, and it's been wonderful to get to know Bianca and her beautiful singing voice too. It also doesn't hurt that they happen to be engaged in real life too!
How do you strike the balance with HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) being adapted for South African audiences, while not becoming a cliché of the community it portrays?
Nicolas: It's certainly not a cliché. Dean and Bianca have found the truth in the characters - it is a play about people, a human story, personal, not political. Lee-André is an upwardly mobile lawyer, Dan is someone who has wasted his opportunities. It's about growth, maturing and understanding each other.
What has been the most interesting part of working with HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) thus far?
Nicolas: For me, gaining a better understanding of Cape Town and even learning some Afrikaans as there is some Afrikaans in the script. We also included research of visiting various places in Cape Town mentioned in the text.
Who are you speaking to with this production? Do you think it speaks more to romantic disillusionment or hope?
Nicolas: Definitely hope! It shows there can be a happy ending and the message of the play is - as the car parking machine says - change is possible!
Lastly, what can audiences expect from HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS)?
Nicolas: A wonderful journey through love - you will be moved and you will laugh a lot as you watch these two very different people fall in love!
Photo credit: Claude Barnardo
HAPPY NEW YEAR (A PLAY WITH SONGS) will be performed at The Fugard Studio Theatre from 19 February 2019 at 8pm with matinees at 4pm on Saturdays. Tickets ranging from R160 to R220 can be booked through The Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or through The Fugard Theatre's website at www.thefugard.com. Please note: There is a recommend age advisory of 14 years with parental guidance (SL).