ONE of the plays I am most looking forward to watching at this year’s Hilton Arts Festival is Talking Heads, Alan Bennett’s darkly comic, poignant and uplifting modern theatrical classic. It is one of two productions being directed by former Durban actress Janna Ramos-Violante, who has previously delighted festival goers with her plays Mein Soldat and Callum’s Will.
She co-directs and co-stars with the legendary Fiona Ramsay in Talking Heads, which offers a fresh new look at some of the British playwright’s pieces, which are compelling, confessional and crackling with wit.
Ramos-Violante also directs Ramsay and Tony Bentel in The Old and The Beautiful, which received a coveted Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year.
Asked why she and Ramsay decided to stage Talking Heads, Ramos-Violante said: “We were looking for a new play to do with a small, all-female cast, and at a coffee meeting Fi produced the Alan Bennett script. I jumped at it right away.
“The writing is phenomenal and his characters are gifts for actors to play. It’s funny, human, honest, moving, real and almost everyone can relate to his work. I found all these elements hugely attractive.” Ramos-Violante, who also starred in KickstArt Theatre Company’s award-winning productions Venus in Fur and Don’t Dress for Dinner, is loving working with Ramsay, her co-star in the acclaimed production of Doubt.
“It has been the most incredible time. We both work hard and we enjoy working hard, but we have such fun and boy, do we laugh,” she said. “This has been a special time for me. I have learnt so much from Fiona and have certainly grown as a person and an actress.
“I am grateful that we had the opportunity this year to create so much together. We have relished every show, all being so different, and we are both looking forward to working together in the future. Talking Heads is particularly great because we get to direct each other.”
In Talking Heads: Her Big Chance, Ramos-Violante plays Lesley, a fairly naive character who is desperate to be an actress but keeps landing up in the hotel rooms of men who pray on her openness, vulnerability and gullible nature.“She is so funny without meaning to be, and it’s a joy to play,” the actress said.
“Fiona is playing Rosemary in Nights in the Garden of Spain. This is a brilliant, moving piece by Bennett and Fiona is extraordinary in the role, playing a woman whose mundane life is shaken up by a murder in the area, with a chilling combination of fragility and knowing.”
The Old and The Beautiful, meanwhile, came about when Ramsay and Bentel asked Ramos-Violante to direct them in a “trip down memory lane” cabaret.“
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “Fiona and Tony have been performing together for years in various shows and they wanted to share a few of the moments and numbers they’ve done with an audience. It’s wonderfully heart-warming, funny and nostalgic.”
Actors and director were thrilled with the play’s reception and award in Grahamstown. “It was the only cabaret to receive an Ovation Award at the festival. The show is very special for the three of us, so it felt like a cherry on top,” said Ramos-Violante, who can be seen in The Imagined Land at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg until Saturday.
Written by Craig Higginson (Dream of the Dog,The Girl in the Yellow Dress), the plot revolves around a famous Zimbabwean novelist who is about to undergo brain surgery. Her daughter, a literary critic studying in America, is coming home to take care of her. Then a young biographer, also from Zimbabwe, arrives at the front door, requesting to write the biography of the woman who changed the course of his life.
Ramos-Violante is enjoying doing this new South African play and would love to stage it in her home town. “There are rumours that you will see it in KwaZulu-Natal, so watch the press,” she added.
Looking ahead, the actress will be performing The Imagined Land at the State Theatre in Pretoria, and then in January 2016, she heads to Cape Town to perform in Contractions alongside Emily Child.
NEED TO KNOW
Talking Heads by Alan Bennett can be seen in the Drama Centre at 3 pm on September 19 and 2 pm on September 20. Tickets are R165. The Old and The Beautiful is at the Drama Centre at 8 pm on September 19 and 11.30 am on September 20. Tickets are R165. To book for these shows, go to http://www.hiltonfestival.co.za The Hilton Arts Festival is at Hilton College from September 18 to September 20.