Theatre interview: Finding hope and beliefwith the King of Broken Things, August 2021 season at The Drama Factory

What: The King Of Broken Things Performer: Cara Roberts Writer/director/designer: Michael Taylor-Broderick Where: The Drama Factory, 10 Comprop Sq, Henry Vos Close, Asla Business Park, Strand, Western Cape When: August 12-15, 2021 -four performances – Thurs Aug 12 at 7pm; Fri Aug 13 at 7pm, Sat Aug 14 at 3.30pm and 7pm Tickets: R150/R135 Booking: With credit card or call 073 215 2290  

The King Of Broken Things: The title of this theatre piece, by Michael Taylor-Broderick, sounds like it could have been written now – in our current landscape of broken things and broken-ness- in year two of the pandemic. He describes the piece as a “bittersweet journey into the broken heart of a young boy who teaches us that the rehabilitation of things broken and discarded gets to include people and hearts and how all things, seen and unseen, can be mended.” The overriding theme, is that “hope and belief, are more necessary now than they ever were.” We can all relate, August 2021. However, The King Of Broken Things, was conceived before Rona and first staged in 2018. Director/writer/designer, Taylor-Broderick talks about its journey – from stage to screen and now back on stage,with an audience-in-attendance. The King Of Broken Things is making its debut in the Cape at The Drama Factory, for a short season- August 12-14, 2021- four performances.

TheCapeRobyn: Tell us about the journey of The King Of Broken Things?

Michael Taylor-Broderick: It premiered in September 2018 at the Hilton Arts Festival – for two performances. We were invited back to Hilton, in 2019 (September). Between the two festival editions we did two nights ‘refresher’ performances in a small theatre in Durban prior to the Umtiza Arts Festival in East London. At the time, the actress, Cara Roberts, was Johannesburg based and it was tricky for us to arrange further performances; always being restricted to weekends (festivals) due to our respective availability.  We performed at the Sharjah International Fringe Festival in January 2020, just before Covid hit us.

TheCapeRobyn: In 2020, when Covid shuttered live performance, you filmed the show for online screening at the Fringe at the National Arts Festival 2020 and received a Gold Ovation Award? 

Michael Taylor-Broderick: Yes, these are unusual times and we won a Gold Ovation Award on the Fringe platform.

TheCapeRobyn: Have there been any other presentations of this work – from the online NAF 2020- to now?

Michael Taylor-Broderick: We had a one off ‘live streaming’ last year [2020], as part of AfreeFest which included a short ‘making of’ documentary. Also, on the strength of our Ovation Award we were invited – and accepted- to present our filmed version on the 2021 Brighton Fringe Festival platform and now we get to debut it in the Cape. Unfortunately, just when The King of Broken Things had started to gain traction and momentum, Covid arrived. After our performances in Sharjah, there was a strong possibility of the show traveling to Bulgaria as part of an annual Festival in Varna – of course that fell through when the pandemic hit. I have been trying to present the show in Cape Town for a while now but every time the possibility arose, theatres and travel were shut down. Thanks to The Drama Factory’s Sue Diepeveen’s resilience and determination, we are ready to pick up where we left off. I can’t wait to move the show into The Drama Factory next week. With this show, my Theatresmiths colleagues and I have a beautiful and much needed message to share with the world, IMAGINE, DREAM, BELIEVE. [Theatresmiths is the Durban based theatre company that Taylor-Broderick heads up and which is producing The King Of Broken Things.]

TheCapeRobyn: Has the state of the ‘world of broken things’- filtered into your direction of this play? Your thoughts on being able to share the play with us now- a protagonist who is able to transcend being broken and offer hope- and us watching – in this time of communal despair and broken-ness?

Michael Taylor-Broderick: The show hasn’t changed in any way, the themes have always been universally relevant and will continue to be, more so now since the way we have all had to re-evaluate our lives. I think the essential difference will be how the play is viewed by an audience that has lived through incredibly challenging times. As with all art forms, the viewer’s life experiences determine how they interpret an artwork. This is no different. I believe we are all more sensitive now than we were a year and a half ago. What is important is that the overriding themes of the play, those of hope and belief, are more necessary now than they ever were.

TheCapeRobyn:  What or who inspired you to write the play? Is it set in a specific time frame or could it be happening at any time?

Michael Taylor-Broderick: I was inspired by my kids. At the time of writing, my two boys were four and six years old and I was fascinated by their innocent take on the world, the old saying ‘straight from the mouth of babes’ being reinforced daily by their questions and curiosity. It got me thinking about how age leads us to complicate our lives. Most of the questions we face throughout our lives don’t change much, we just complicate the answers as we get older. Also, observing how their imagination fuelled them, allowed me to see the world through unadulterated eyes, making me believe, like them, that anything is possible if you just believe. The play isn’t set in any particular time frame and I believe it has greater resonance now than when it was first written and performed.

TheCapeRobyn:  Have there been significant changes, since the piece was first staged in 2018 ?

Michael Taylor-Broderick: Certain elements of the production are technically quite complex, so it’s always challenging setting it up in a new space. Interestingly, all our performances, bar the two in Durban, have been at festivals. Making it work under challenging festival conditions has been a steep learning curve but these experiences have certainly helped us adapt the show to work in most spaces. The production is the same in most ways as it was when it was originally staged in 2018. I believe the difference lies in how it will be viewed and received by audiences now. After the devastating effect that Covid, has had on all of us, almost everyone has had to reassess their values, questioning so many aspects of their lives, much like the young protagonist in the play does throughout the performance. Also, I believe my actress, Cara, will have a deeper connection with the character because of what she has experienced over the past year and a half. I am so excited at the prospect of being settled in our own dedicated theatre space [at The Drama Factory] for more than two performances.

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about the online version which won a Gold Ovation at NAF 2020?

Michael Taylor-Broderick:  I was very fortunate to have an amazing cameraman, Cobus Van Heerden of Pioneer Films, who shot the entire performance with a steady cam. Yes, there were other static cameras, and there is the odd edit but for the most part the majority of the recording is through the lens of the steady cam. This approach brought an authenticity that allowed the play to be viewed from a human perspective rather than a cyclops view. Also, due to time constraints, we had to shoot the performance in one ‘live’ take which meant that Cobus, having never seen the play before, was interpreting it as it happened, making him a part of the performance. Other than the way Cobus filmed it, I didn’t change anything. I didn’t re-stage any of it, nor did I adapt the set, or adjust any light levels to accommodate the camera. The ending of the show is quite magical and I have to admit that no matter how many times and ways we try and capture it on film we will never be able to recreate the magic that we achieve in a live theatre setting. In hindsight, I believe that I got lucky; the steady cam decision and a cameraman who was sensitive to the performer and her performance, made all the difference. The takeaway for me is that you have to be very sensitive to the differences between a live theatre performance and a filmed one; they are vastly different mediums.

Cara Roberts in The King Of Broken Things, by Michael Taylor-Broderick, who also directs. It will be on at The Drama Factory in the Cape, August12-15, 2021.

❇Images: Cara Roberts in The King Of Broken Things. This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.