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Not one false step for cast

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By Tonight Reporter

Having the West End and Broadway hit, The 39 Steps, staged for the first time in Durban has been a real treat for theatregoers.

The play, which is running at the Catalina Theatre as part of its 10th anniversary, wraps up on Sunday.

Directed by Venturas, The 39 Steps features Clare Mortimer, Loyiso McDonald and Michael Gritten and Clinton Small as the title character, Richard Hannay.

Tonight caught up with the cast to chat about their respective experiences so far in this fast-paced piece.

The 39 Steps is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan, which was turned into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The staged version sees the cast of four playing the full line-up of actors cast in the 1935 film.

Mortimer said playing four characters had been fun. Small only plays the lead character, with the most of the others portrayed by Gritten and McDonald.

“I play about eight characters,” said Gritten. “I really enjoy it. The trick is to find the physicality and voice of each character, then the rest comes naturally. It also gives me the chance do some hammy acting which is great fun. I have had good experience with multiple characters.

“Aldo Brincat and I did King Kong a few years ago and then Steven Stead and I did The Mystery of Irma Vep after that. Both were hectic, but a lot of fun,” he said.

For McDonald, it’s been a “learning curve: I play about six characters. The biggest challenge has been the accents. It’s been a bit of a challenge getting my Xhosa tongue around a North Country English accent. It’s good to exercise my acting muscles.”

Asked about feeling pressure to live up to the success the show had in the US, the cast seemed unfazed.

“We have seen some clips of the US show on YouTube, and we think they’ve missed the point. We are going to make it our own,” said Mortimer.

Small agreed, saying: “I feel they didn’t get the style right. The UK version was fantastic, but I didn’t like the US one.”

And with an array of characters in this production, who are the cast’s favourites to play?

“Margaret,” said Mortimer. “I just adore her. She’s a very rural Scot who dreams of the big city.

“She’s also 20 years younger than me,” she joked.

Gritten said he enjoys being Professor Jordan: “I’m playing him as a Bond villain. Basically he’s a camp Nazi. Lots of fun.

Mortimer picks up: “Professor Jordan wasn’t written in the script as camp. Mike must have been possessed during the rehearsal period, much to the delight of the rest of the cast.”

McDonald said he enjoys playing Mrs McGarrigle: “Any excuse to wear a dress…”

So, is Small jealous that the rest of the cast get to play multiple characters, while he just has one?

“Yes, a bit. My character is the ‘straight’ character. Therefore it’s hard to match my performance with the rest of the cast’s over-the-top characters. They are also having so much fun with the different characters that I am a little jealous.”

And as they finish off the show this week, I asked what the cast had planned for Christmas.

“I’ll be forced to go up to my mum’s house in Pietermaritzburg. I would dearly love to host my own Christmas, but my mother would go into decline if I missed hers,” explained Mortimer.

Gritten plans on spending the day with his daughter and her mother at a friend’s house in Hillcrest; Small will be with his family in Amanzimtoti: “I’ll be with my folks in ’Toti. We have a group of friends who take turns in hosting Christmas lunch. This year it’s our turn, which is great. I’ll be home with my family and my dogs and my brother’s goats. I’m gonna eat too much and swim. Good times.”

McDonald said he’ll be in Pinetown: “I’ll be spending Christmas with my family in Pinetown. It’s been months since I’ve seen them because I’ve been working up in Gauteng over the past year, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Of their favourite Christmas memories, there was much to share.

“It was a few years ago. I was in England. I woke up on Christmas morning and it had snowed overnight. I finally had a white Christmas. I even went to a Latin mass in a tiny stone chapel,” said Mortimer.

“For me, every Christmas is special. I look forward to it every year. My favourite part is waking up early on Christmas morning and handing out the gifts, then spending the day with my family,” explained Small.

Gritten’s favourite memory was as a child: “Waking up in the morning and seeing that Santa had eaten the mince pies and drank the sherry we left out for him the night before. We knew that Santa had come!”

While for Loyiso it was his first bicycle: “My best Christmas was when I got my first BMX. It had training wheels on it. I was riding it around the pool when one of the training wheels came off and I fell into the pool. Coincidentally, it was the first time I learnt to swim!”

* Performances of The 39 Steps will be on Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2.30pm and 8pm and Sundays at 2.30pm and 6pm. Bookings can be made by calling 031 305 6889 or at www.strictlytickets.com

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