From left to right: Jaloshini Naidoo, Iain "Ewok" Robinson, Tim Wells and Clare Mortimer in God of Carnage.
- Extract from review of the recent Hilton Festival by Janet van Eeden
“The last show on my list was the slick and ridiculously funny God of Carnage by the KZN’s best production team, KickstArt, with director Steven Stead and set designer Greg King. Fortunately Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson overcame his scruples [about the Israeli plays on offer] to take part in this delightful four-hander. Two couples meet for a sensible discussion about a playground incident after one of their sons hit the other with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. After a formal acceptance of responsibility by the guilty couple, the bounds of propriety are shaken somewhat by the rude behaviour of one of the husbands. Undercurrents push to the surface and as the rum begins to flow, and so do the allegations: from couple to couple, from husband to wife, from woman to woman and from man to man.
“It’s a brilliant ensemble piece where everyone gives their best performance to recreate a night of hysterical emotions where the God of Carnage is visible not only on the playgrounds. Jalloshini Naidoo is superb as the staid wife who breaks loose, as is Tim Wells as the hen-pecked husband whose passivity is nowhere to be seen after a few glasses of rum. Clare Mortimer gives a stellar performance as a drunken idealist and Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson is excellent as a work-obsessed lawyer with a cell phone fixation. In the final analysis, though, it is the script which is the winner. Written by the Tony Award-winning Yasmina Reza, it carries the action through brilliantly written dialogue. It’s a treat to be entertained with such high-quality writing, acting and directing.”
- First published in the Sunday Independent, 25th September, 2011.
Tim, you play the role of a somewhat hen-pecked husband in God of Carnage, an absolute peach of a play. I loved the transition of your character, who starts off trying to please his rather demanding idealistic wife, but slowly deteriorates into a loud-mouthed, devil-may-care brute as he drinks more rum. How did you manage to find the truth of your character?
Thanks Janet. Our process was an interesting one. As a cast who quickly felt comfortable and completely at ease with one another, we began an exploration of the piece which amounted to an almost too “realism-based” depiction of our characters. The play became quite dark and heavy, and so about two weeks into rehearsal Steven, the director, threw a different ball into play by showing us video excerpts of other productions of the play, including the Broadway production with Jeff Daniels playing my role. The Americans managed to needle out the humour without going too “sitcom”. We experimented with more humour detail – brave pauses, etc – and found the whole piece lightened up hugely. We weren’t sure how audiences would react, but were soon encouraged to find that while all the humour came to the fore, the gravitas was not lost. I think we all held on to the core truths and realism of our characters which we’d laid as a foundation at the earlier stages of rehearsal. My own truths are found in, I suppose, the way most actors do – by holding up the mirror to ourselves and those around us and internalising it all.
How do you manage to play “drunk” so well?
Ha ha! Yes, well, I do enjoy a good whisky and soda followed by a good sauvignon blanc or decent red with dinner. I tend to avoid getting drunk (perhaps it’s just that my resistance is such now that it takes far too much to make me so!) – being 43 makes the consequences far more hard-hitting the next day! I didn’t try to make my character appear drunk. I thought he’d be well-versed enough to hold his liquor fairly well, yet the inhibitions begin to slip and wobble outward!
This play is one of my favourite kinds, consisting of excellently written dialogue which drives the action through a sort of frenzied battle of wits. How difficult was it to learn your lines in such a tightly written ensemble piece where one fluffed line could throw everyone off?
You are so accurate here! It was a demanding piece for us all - including poor Iain having to be interrupted by a phone incessantly (I endured similar challenges playing John in David Mamet’s Oleanna a few years ago for KickstArt), and we had to use rapid-fire dialogue to generate that tension and realism. It is a very demanding ensemble piece. Luckily, we all made sure that the ball did not drop!
The play was directed by Steven Stead and designed by Greg King, who comprise KickstArt Productions. What was it like working with them?
It is always an absolute pleasure! I was at varsity with Steven and so feel very comfortable with him. Greg and I first worked together around 11 years ago on Durban’s first production of Ben Elton’s Popcorn. Both men are top-notch talents and lovely people, too! In addition to God of Carnage, I have worked with KickstArt on Oleanna and Little Shop of Horrors, in which I played the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey-2.
Has the play completed its run in Durban? Is it likely to travel anywhere else in South Africa? I hope so, because it deserves to be widely seen.
Thanks again, Janet. The Durban run is indeed over, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we revisited it at some stage, as we sold out our run and could not extend. As for a tour, I am not sure. I cannot afford to leave my home town for anything longer than a few nights, as I am kept busy with commercial voice work and have family commitments here. I have deliberately avoided the “life-style” aspects of being a performer, as being at home is very much part of me. Debi and I have two children, Anna (11) and Michael (7). Mikey has autism, so our emotional energies are generally stretched. He is home-schooled with a private tutor and is making very good progress, but it’s a long and uncertain journey.
I’m a freelance writer and I’ve found the last few years very tough on freelancers. How do you manage to survive as a freelance actor?
I have freelanced since being retrenched from the NAPAC Loft Theatre Company in 1993. I have done numerous shows, both dramas and musical reviews, etc. But over the years I have focused on commercial voice-over work as my primary business, collaborating with major studios and working from my own home-based recording suite. To be based in Durban was a conscious decision. I had no desire to be in soap operas and the idea of Joburg has never appealed to me (apologies – that traffic!), but my voice travels via MP3, including to overseas production houses. I find it amusing that there are still some agencies and production houses who ignore me because of the “Durban stigma”, yet I am sending my voice all over the place independently of them.
Do you ever write your own work? If not, have you ever wanted to?
I would like to, but I defer to you real writers. I have tried and I can write pretty realistic and believable dialogue, but as for assembling a coherent and engaging overall plot with sub-plots and original ideas? I am stumped! I do write songs, though – many which have been on the radio over the years, but I am yet to hit that number one slot! At the moment I am recording an album with my blues band – the Tim Wells Blues Band – an original name!
Have you got another play coming up soon? Have you ever done any film work? What’s next on the cards for you?
I am not sure when the next play will be done. Steven usually convinces me with a good script which I can’t resist and the promise that the run is local, only three weeks, the run-time around an hour and twenty minutes and without an interval … Then I am likely to respond with, “Oh all right then!”. I have done some small film roles (a couple of leading roles, too, over the years) and dramatised doccies for overseas production houses, but sadly there is not a burgeoning industry down here. What I’d really like to do is small, tightly-knit independent film productions which are without the massive egos and budgets of the film industry – the environments of which often seem like paramilitary organisations at work, but which achieve effective results. I was involved with a small production for the Durban film festival last year. It included wonderful actors and a subtle and moving script but it fell down in production and editing and the end-result was disappointing to us all. But it made me see the potential of small-scale production, as everything would have come together had it been properly edited. You can make a film using cell phone video footage … I love the idea of startling the industry with such unexpected results.
Next on the cards? To finish our Blues album and do a proper launch early next year. In the interim, to keep working in studio and brave this recession with some deep breaths.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions Tim. So kind of you and you deserve every success.
I so appreciate your interest and support, Janet! Thank you!
- For more information about Tim Wells’s work, go to his website: www.wells.co.za