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In Conversation: Lara Foot Newton

South Africa has given the world its fair share of great theatre talents and productions. From Athol Fugard with Sizwe Banzi Is Dead to Barney Simon with Born In The RSA. Lara Foot Newton, playwright and director has also found her voice and place on the world stage among her contemporaries. I interviewed her for The New African Woman back in 2009. In her own words, Lara Foot Newton and why she is passionate about engaging audiences in the social and political consciousness of the society they live in.


Lara Foot Newton Belinda: Where does your passion for theatre come from?

Lara: There was a very specific moment in my life when I was about 17years old and I went to see a play at The Market theatre. Before then, I had not been to the theatre in my life. Maybe I had seen one ballet or been to the circus. It was about 1984 and I saw a play ‘Born In THE RSA’ and at the time there was major censorship in South Africa. And it was in the peak of Apartheid time and the play was about what was going on in the country and it was the first time that I understood what was going on in the country where I was living. And it was a really life changing experience and it was an extraordinary piece of theatre. It really changed my life that I decided there and then that whatever those people were doing on stage I wanted to do that. I wanted to be part of the social and political consciousness going on in the country and I fell in love with theatre.

Belinda: Who are your influences in the world of theatre?

Lara: I am influenced by Barney Simon at The Market Theatre and Athol Fugard and the plays that were of that time and then Peter Brook, and I was mentored a few years ago by Peter Hall and that was another understanding of theatre for me.

Belinda: You have also worked on some films, would one be right to assume your career cuts across theatre and film and how do both compare?

Lara: I am primarily theatre and I have done some film but I am mostly a theatre maker.

Belinda: I understand you are a fellow of the Sundance Film Festival and you are currently working on a feature film of one of your plays, Tshepang which deals with the issue of childe rape in South Africa. Is your passion to deal with taboo subjects through your work?

Lara: Not necessarily in all my work but certainly, my mission I suppose is engaging the country that I live because I think its only and if you engage in the dark side that you can also enjoy the joy and union of the country. So, my work engages on both sides. I think if you isolate yourself from you society through fear, naivety or ignorance, you lose out on the joy of where you are staying. So, I try to cut across both, the violence of our country and the healing of our country; to look he light and dark and theat t juxtaposition of both.


Belinda: A South African journalist described you as an optimist because he says that your plays always looks at the themes of redemption and that it is constant in your work.  Based on your work so far, who and what do you think needs redemption and is theatre the best place to start that process?

Lara: I think redemption is a bit of a strong word because I think part of healing is a process because there is no specific moment of redemption, there is no specific moment or one isolated moment of forgiveness. It’s a process. Healing is a process. Redemption is a process. So the process involved, involves engagement and it involves empathy and that in itself takes time and I suppose takes the experience of life. So, I think that theatre contributes to this experience. That’s one of the contributing factors to take in theatre but not the place. Its one of the places where people can share and engage and it’s certainly the place that I personal find healing.

Mdu Kweyama and Mfundo Tshazibane carry Chuma Sopotela in Karoo Moose

Belinda:What’s the inspiration behind Karoo Moose, your new play and what’s it about?

Lara: It came from an experience I had when I was in Stockholm, Sweden and my child minder from South Africa came along.  We were walking in the street one day and pushing the pram and we walked past a restaurant, and outside was there was a moose’s head and she asked what was that animal and I said. I think it’s a Moose, I was not even sure. She said well, when she was growing up, she was 13, she lived in a very impoverished town in the Eastern Cape and one day one of these animals came  running through the park and she and some young boys chased this animal and they hit it with sticks and eventually, they killed it. I said, well, I don’t know but is possible because we don’t get Moose in South Africa and we had a chat about it.

Then I had this idea, this image of strange wild animal running through the Karoo and that image stayed with me because the Karoo is so hot and it’s dry, sandy and dusty and it’s a strange life in the Karoo. It’s strange and feels almost like a dream and surreal. So, the idea of this wild beast running through the Karoo and seeing all these kids you know eating this wild meat and so this was the idea for a story which I wrote as a film. I wrote it as a film script and because it started as a film script, I had freedom in my writing. It was very interesting to cut across time and space in a way that you cannot do with theatre and then a couple of years later, when it was getting difficult for me to get it made into a film, I started playing around with the idea of turning it into a play. And in fact that process of going from film to theatre was quite amazing. And it was quite inspiring but it was a simple process as opposed to if you go the other way round, from theatre to film. It’s much more difficult to adapt. And then there was the process to find the correct company, the right actors to pull the play off and finding these actors in Cape Town took me a very long time. Once, I had the right company, the process was an absolute joy. Probably the best experience in theatre I have ever had. It was a very creative experience and coming from a film script, it gave us freedom and it placed on us that we all enjoy it.


Belinda: The production has picked up  8 Naledi Theatre wards including best director, based on that response back home,  are you in anyway nervous or apprehensive about the response of the European audience and theatre critics?

Lara: The cast has played to all kinds of audiences in South Africa as we have very device audiences in South Africa and no matter who will ply to, there’s magnetism about the cast and all audiences love them and they are very attracted to the cast. The play has played to all kinds of audiences, we are a culturally diverse country and no matter who watches the play from which country, the audience is very warm towards the play and the cast has something very magnetic about it that attracts the audience towards them and the audience loves them and I imagine the audience in London will react to them the same way. I can’t say I am anxious and I am excited.


Belinda: You are writer/director and have put yourself to both tasks on this production. Did you at any point find yourself in conflict during the course of this production by taking on both roles?

Lara: No, I think because I have often, from the very beginning, when I started in theatre, I often…even if I didn’t write the play, I was responsible for workshops or with putting the play together. In a way, it seems like that’s what I am. I am a writer, director. I do that and that’s what I’m good at.

Mdu Kweyama and Chuma Sopotela in Karoo MooseBelinda: The critics in south Africa have praised the play, has that given you an indication in any form shape or way that you have been able to translate the vision you had in mind as a film to the stage that you did it successfully?

Lara: I think we have won about 20 wards which is ridiculous. The company is attractive and people are attracted to them and awards are not necessarily the critics. But that doesn’t make me know that the play has been received well. What makes me know that it has been received well is the audience reaction. The audience reaction is incredibly warm and responsive. I mean you don’t know because when you travel to another country, you never know how people are going to react. They might not like it, the critics might not like it, you just never now. I am assuming that they will.


Belinda: You have directed over 30 plays and big productions at that. How does going back to traditional theatre with Karoo Moose differ to the experience of the others?

Lara: I have directed over 40 plays and over 20 new South African plays and when I go back to the kind of traditional African storytelling which often contains elements of magical realism, I feel comfortable. I feel in myself and I suppose it’s where I feel the happiest.


Belinda: Any particular reason for that joyful excitement/fulfilment?

Lara: It gives something to me which I cannot explain. It is very fulfilling, I feel at home.


Belinda: You have also employed music and the whole element of magical realism, what were you hoping to achieve with that?

Lara: If you see the play, you will see it’s vital, its just part of the heart of the play. It needs rhythm, it needs voice and it needs excitement and percussion. It is part of the fabric of the piece and I suppose because it is stylised because we have a dancer who does the Moose, so he physicalises the Moose in a dance-like-way and that requires sound.

Bogile Mantsai, Thami Mbongo and Mdu KweyamaBelinda: What points of discussion has this production has evoked in South Africa?

Lara: I think it’s the question of hope and violence. Yes, the play explores violence and yet it’s hopeful. So, there’s always this debate where some critics see my work as very dark because I examines themes of violence and other critics see my work as very hopeful, maybe even naively hopeful. So there’s always a debate around that. And that’s great. It’s fantastic because that means people are interacting with the exact question that I am engaging with.


Belinda: Are those some of the things you hoped people would say or is that what you are getting the feedback?

Lara: That’s what I am hearing in the feedback and when I start doing a play, I don’t really hope to do anything. I just engage myself in the story and I can’t ever really predict any reaction.


Belinda: your new production company is called MASAMBE, what is the aim of the company?

Lara: It is a small theatre company that will take work of international standard in our country to areas where they otherwise would not be able to see theatre work or have contact with the theatre. I suppose you can call it an outreach company, moving into an area with plays done in the language of that area. For example, Karoo Moose was translated into Xhosa and we took it into churches, community halls and schools in the Western Cape. So, the idea is to create a love for theatre specifically in schools but by using the language of the children that are watching and using plays that are of very high standard. So, the same plays that can go to the Tricycle, UK can also play in tiny little church made out of tin.



Lara Foot Newton courtesy of Lara Foot Newton and The Tricycle Theatre

1 – Mdu Kweyama and Mfundo Tshazibane carry Chuma Sopotela in Karoo Moose.

2 – Mdu Kweyama and Chuma Sopotela in Karoo Moose

3 – Bogile Mantsai, Thami Mbongo and Mdu Kweyama

All images with the exception of Lara Foot New ton are by Ruphin Coudyzer

Please, Do Not Use.

Karoo Moose was shown at the Tricycle Theatre in 2009.


One Response to “In Conversation: Lara Foot Newton”

  1. Topsoil Hockessin de says:

    Thanks a ton for this, I appreciate the info

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