In The Limelight: South African born actor Marco Titus is at the centre of the opening up of theatre in London– and loving it
With Covid being tamed with mass vaccination programmes, it is wonderful to see a re-boot of live performance in London and New York and other cities in Europe. South African born actors are being snapped up for major roles. In tandem with veteran artists, there is also a contingent of young newcomers to the industry who are getting noticed, such as Marco Titus who is being considered for a lead role, in a major musical theatre production in London. Marco who was born and grew up in Cape Town, recently graduated from the prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Its alumni includes Dame Judi Dench, Sir Laurence Olivier, Harold Pinter and Sir Cameron Mackintosh. Yeah, quite a list. Out of 5000 applicants per year. On average, they accept 17 candidates. Marco from Cape Town made the cut and during his three year acting degree, he excelled. While a student, he was signed by leading London agency, Sharon Henry Management, known for its diversity portfolio of actors and commitment to authentic casting. It may sound like a meteoric rise but Marco made his professional stage debut, age nine as Tiny Tim, in the Northern Ballet’s production of A Christmas Carol [December 2001]. His family lived in Surrey for four years, when his dad transferred there for work. His teacher at school, recommended him for his role in A Christmas Carol. Since then he has been determined to make his way as an actor – with proficiency in multiple spheres – voice, movement and dance.
I have been following Marco’s career with interest and you will see why when I say that I am not surprised by the buzz that he is creating in London. I met Marco and his dad, in a coffee shop in Cape Town. It was June 2018. They recognised me from my mug-shot from a column that I wrote in a Cape Town newspaper. It was a moment of ping as I recognised Marco from seeing him in productions by UCT’s Cape Town Opera School. At the time, Marco was completing his studies at the University of Cape Town Opera School, South African College of Music, for a BMus (Hons) in Opera Performance. His beautiful lyrical tenor voice had made an impression on me. Cape Town Opera School works with Cape Town Opera. I am a huge fan of our opera company which has created, I would say, its own performative opera aesthetic which mashes up an African sensibility with Eurocentric conventions. Meeting Marco, I was curious to find out his plans, after graduation, as an opera singer. No, he told me, he wanted to develop his acting skills. He had always considered himself primarily as an actor. He went to opera school as it was important to get a good vocal training. However, he wanted to expand his craft. He wanted to do film, plays, radio; write and direct. In that conversation, we chatted about plays that were on in Cape Town and I remarked that I was going to see The Year of Magical Thinking, the play based on Joan Didion’s poignant memoir of the same name. The Cape Town production, at the Baxter, starred renowned actress, Dorothy Anne Gould. Marco told me that he had been taking acting lessons with Dorothy. From an early age, he has sought out opportunities to study with actors. While at school in Cape Town, he told me that he studied voice with the legendary opera singer, Virginia Davids. Why? Well, he took up music as a subject, late at school and reckoned he could do with extra tuition. He was taught by Emeritus Professor Virginia Davids Professor, at UCT, when he was an opera student but that came years after his sessions when at school. By the way, when at school, he was cast in William Kentridge’s Magic Flute, in Cape Town. Just tossing that in here. It is the tip of a remarkable CV.
Going back to our first encounter in the coffee shop, we, decided to attend a performance together, The Year of Magical Thinking, at the Baxter Theatre [July 2018]. During that evening and subsequent coffee chats, I learned about Marco’s journey from child actor in Surrey, age 9, to his immersion in theatre at school in Cape Town at Wynberg Boys High. There was a piano in the family home and he plays various instruments. He did choir at school, vocal ensemble, and band. After finishing school, he briefly veered off the performance track, when he enrolled for a Business Science Degree at UCT (something to “fall back on”, as his parents implored) but after two years, he transferred to music to do a BMus degree, as he realised that he had to follow his passion.
In our chats, he has dazzled me with the range of courses that he taken – such as Stanislavski, Meisner, Chekov, Adler, Strassberg and Perdekamp Emotional Method (PEM) – to name some of the acting technique classes that he has dipped into. He had an acting session with Janet Suzman, in London, when he was there for a gap year, after opera school and auditioning for drama schools. Dame Suzman gave Marco a glowing testimonial and praised him as “exceptionally talented”. With testimonials like that, he sparked interest at several drama schools. He accepted a place at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and started his degree in September 2018. Fast forward to 2020 and the pandemic. He returned to Cape Town, for about five months to continue online with his studies and be with his family, during hard lockdown in South Africa. He returned to London, to drama school in mid-2020 and performed on stage, with his fellow students, albeit without an audience-in-attendance. The plays were filmed for viewing online. He was chuffed to be in Colossal by American writer, Andrew Hinderaker. The production was the UK premiere of this new play about a star football player in Texas and has been hailed for its unflinching gaze into masculinity, with an intersection with sport dance and disability. His principal role involved dancing. In another student production, Seven Guitars by August Wilson, he played the lead role of Floyd Barton and sang and danced in that production.
Unfortunately I did not see Colossal or Seven Guitars, but I was fortunate to see Marco in a recording of Chigger Foot Boys. The 2017 play by British/Jamaican writer Patricia Cumper, is set in a rum bar in Kingston in Jamaica, during World War I. Jamaicans were fighting for the British Empire – for the Motherland- unaware of the effect of the war on the island. It is superb play, layered with chilling dialogue, grappling with racism, identity, belonging, nationhood and so on. It was a moment of “wow”- watching Marco in this gripping play. One of the protagonists is Norman Manley – the future statesman and National Hero of Jamaica. I stopped and paused the recording when a character, Linton says: “I have been to England, on the way to Sierre Leone. It is a cold, grey, funny place. I saw a white man, sweeping in the streets.” I thought of Marco Titus, in London, far away from sunny Cape Town and asked him about his life in London, as an actor, far away from his home town. He said that sure, London can be cold and grey but it is also vibrant, hip and happening city with incredible opportunities for young thespians. That excites him- being at the epicentre of theatre. He is particularly excited at the reception for new graduates and for artists of colour. There is a recognition that young creatives were locked out, during the pandemic and that they lost out on being seen in student productions. They are being given the chance to take on starring roles – without having to bide their time in the wings. Well, as I say, Marco Titus is hardly a novice. He has been treading the boards since nine. Marco has already nabbed an accolade in the UK. He played the lead in the Mikado with the G&S Society (Gilbert and Sullivan) and we went to the International G&S Festival in Harrogate where he won the Best Duet and was runner up for Best Male Voice at the 23rd International G&S Awards (2016). Watch this space – to see this young star shine on the international stage. It is a huge loss for South Africa but hopefully we will see him back on stage in South Africa, at some point.