Butlers and bachelorettes at Toneelhuis in Cape Town: an interview with Justin Wilkinson

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If you’ve ever wanted to kill off a character in a show, now’s your chance!

Justin Wilkenson talks to Naomi Meyer about a murder mystery playing in Cape Town this weekend.

Hi Justin, I notice that you have a murder mystery theatre play, Butlers and bachelorettes, playing at Toneelhuis on Sunday, 3 September.

Please would you tell our readers about this play?

Butlers and bachelorettes is a murder mystery comedy where the audience has a part in the production. Audience members are asked at certain points in the play: what should happen next? Essentially, they vote for a particular choice and therefore help guide the story as it unfolds.

We have two performances only.

Venue: Toneelhuis Theatre (Shortmarket Street, Cape Town), with secure paid parking close by

Dates/times: Friday, 1 September @ 8:00 pm; Sunday, 3 September @ 3:00 pm

Duration: 50 minutes

I call it a play, but is a murder mystery not either a book or a party game? What can the audience expect when they buy tickets for this show?

A fun-filled comedy with twists and turns! Anything can happen, as they are a crucial part of the outcome of the play. If you’ve ever wanted to kill off a character in a show, now’s your chance!

The "bachelor", played by Jos Nel (picture provided)

Where did you get the idea for this play? What is it about, if you can elaborate on this without giving the plot away?

I’ve written various murder mystery comedies since 2008, when we first performed a Butlers-style show. This was at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Since then, I’ve taken a new Butlers show to the fest every year. In fact, we’ve just recently returned from this year’s one in July.

The plot outline, without giving away too much, is as follows:

In the competitive world of broadcasting and television, every network is trying to outdo the other in achieving better ratings, no matter the cost. Producers of the latest Bachelorette show think they might just have the answer to increase viewership – by taking a more cut-throat and somewhat gritty approach to eliminating contenders. After all, what better way to bring new life – or death – to the show?

As things start heating up, little do the viewers – or the contestants – know what sinister happenings are about to unfold – on live television! Hair-raising as always, it’s a dark comedy where the audience gets to choose who lives and who dies!

This murder mystery theatre production took place at the National Arts Festival this year. How did it go – any feedback from the audience?

They loved the show! Here’s just one review to tantalise Cape Town theatregoers:

A highly enjoyable piece of theatre that keeps its audience involved and entertained – one of the highlights of the festival. – CUE (National Arts Festival)

How do you see the future of theatre in this world and in this country?

I believe theatre is a big part of the pulse of the performing arts. After all, it’s live – no, second take! It is exciting, for both the actors and audiences. It drives creativity and new thinking around important aspects of life and the world we live in. In South Africa, it’s inspiring to see young people, especially, taking a passionate interest in this industry. Whether one starts in school plays or reciting poems at an eisteddfod, the arts are alive with energy and possibility! And I guess that’s also why I love theatre myself! Anything can happen!

Book tickets here.
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