Putting in magnetic performances

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By Theresa Smith

Celebrating 25 years in the industry, Magnet Theatre’s reprising Voices Made Night at the National Arts Festival, and now Capetonians also get to catch this bit of magical realism which perfectly displays their physical style.

First question: “How do I spell your name?” “There’s a story about this name,” he grins.

Getting a new ID book at Home Affairs, Windhoek-born Dann-Jaques Mouton questioned the misspelling of his name. “Hey, what happened? Where’s my ‘c’?” he asked. Upon being told that it would cost him to fix their mistake he shrugged it off, and now he’s got a name that never gets spelt the same way twice.

Mouton’s a quiet one – but once you get him talking about Magnet Theatre, he burbles with excitement. Plus, he’s good at the accents so when he’s recounting how lecturers or mentors have encouraged him, he adopts everything from a prim and proper Afrikaner schoolmarm accent to the flattest of Cape Flats eksents.

We’re sitting in Queen of Tarts, opposite the theatre in Observatory and Magnet management have slipped in behind him. Seated at the next table Jenny Reznek and Mark Fleishman share a big, proud grin as he talks about how the company has solidified his work ethic.

The 26-year-old moved with his mother to Cape Town in 1991, returned to Windhoek for two years and then returned for good to spend his formative years in Eerste River.

“People used to see me as a Rastaman, but I wasn’t really heavy in to the religion of Rastafarian,” he remembers, referring to the recently shorn dreadlocks he started growing as a teenager.

Despite appearances he was still trying to figure out what he wanted, including toying with the idea of becoming a professional athlete. Never the scholarly type, Mouton found that he liked touring with the drama group he joined through school, first working on a school production of Grease, then Saturday Night at the Palace, which netted him his first award; most promising actor.

“I fell in love with Artscape, I fell in love with the smell. Every time I go in there now, it’s still there,” he reminisced.

He studied a bridging course through New Africa Theatre Company in 2006 and entered the UCT drama programme.

He hadn’t made the connection that the head of his drama department (Fleishman) and drama lecturer Reznek were the founding members of Magnet Theatre, but they certainly noticed him.

Reznek was his movement teacher “and that’s where the journey began”, while Fleishman was the first one to offer Mouton a contract: “All I said was ‘yes’, it was all I could say.”

They (with Ephraim Gordon, David Johnson and later Rudi Malcolm) started working at the end of 2009 on Die Vreemdeling which was the first play Magnet Theatre mounted in their permanent theatre space.

Mouton is not only good with the accents, but physically he credibly plays anything from a chicken to a policeman and after Vreemdeling came Autopsy, a two-hander with Gordon, Kragboks, and his own creation, a one-man show called Ek Sien ’n Man.

Now he’s part of the ensemble reprising Voices Made Night, which won Magnet Theatre the 2001 FNB Vita for best director, best actress and best lighting design.

Adapted from the short stories Vozes Anoitecidas by the Mozambican writer Mia Couto (the English translation was done by David Brookshaw), the play is directed by Fleishman.

The ensemble reprised it in Grahamstown at last year’s National Arts Festival using the original six stories, which they shortened to five for a run in King Williams Town.

“It changed the rhythm of the piece,” Mouton explained about trying to shorten the drama.

“Even now, people are older and more experienced. Now, you come back to this text and you read it and say: ‘wow, look at what’s happening in the country’.”

He refers specifically to the story which draws on magical realism as a man insists he hadn’t killed his wife, but a bird.

“At the end of the story he realises that maybe he did kill his wife. With all the violence against women and children right now in the news, that story resonates heavily with us.”

For the Baxter run they’ve gone back to six stories, which are all visually rich as the original writing is dense and multi-layered, drawing extensively on metaphor. This perfectly suits the Magnet physical style which prioritises the body and the physical image.

It makes for a very surreal style, which mirrors the way Cotou draws on magical realism as he infuses his Portugeuse with local Mozambican vocabulary and structures.

“Each actor has his own approach. I’m an actor. Yes, you only work when there’s work, but every day I’m working. You have to observe. So, if I’m going to play a pigeon, I’m going to watch pigeons the whole day. The behaviour, their characteristics, what do they do, what’s their relationship with other pigeons. All those details, it’s simple things, but as an actor that’s the most tangible things you can do.

“There’s a specific style of investigating the world and for each person it’s different, but the overarching thing, Jenny would say, the physical language is specific, you have no choice.

“That’s what I love most about the Magnet style of physical theatre, we say so much with the body, without actually saying anything.”

• Voice Made Night runs at the Baxter Flipside from Thursday to March 23 at 8.15pm. Book through Computicket.

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