|Spanish Steps – the play
Writer: Gavin Werner
Performers: Gavin Werner and Diane Simpson
Director: Caroline Midgley
When and where: October 10-22, 2023 in the Baxter Masambe
Direct booking link: Via Baxter http://www.baxter.co.za/spanish-steps or Webtickets https://bit.ly/3LrO1sI
Scroll down for social media links and links to reviews
Exciting news is the staging of Gavin Werner’s play, Spanish Steps in the Baxter Masambe, from October 10-22, 2023. The two-hander was commissioned by The National Arts Festival [NAF], Makhanda for its curated programme in 2022 and was staged again at NAF, this year  on the Fringe. There was a short preview run of Spanish Steps in Cape Town, prior to its NAF 2022 debut but the 2023 run at the Baxter, marks its first Cape Town season. I saw the play in 2022, at its preview run at Theatre Arts and was impressed by its raw poignancy and for taking a deep dive into middle age disillusionment – from the perspective of a man and a women –bound together in a mutual malaise. Can they break free from physical and emotional ties? I look forward to seeing the play again. Read on for more. Scroll down for the box, with links to reviews of the play – excellent reviews – by the way. Info as supplied:
Spanish Steps – a fresh, quirky dive into the human condition opens at the Baxter
What happens when you are forced to reckon with a life that didn’t turn out as you had imagined? Get ready for a wild journey of discovery that may lead to some unexpected answers.
Spanish Steps takes a comical and poignant look at the conundrums of fatherhood, as told through the eyes of both a father and a daughter. Trapped in a basement, two work colleagues, push each other’s buttons and are desperate to find a way out. In this two-hander comedy-drama, Barry (played by Gavin Werner) is a middle-aged, grey-haired, balding white man confronting a life of un-fulfilment: 25 years in an lifeless marriage, 25 years as an underachieving employee for the same insurance company. He is estranged from his 25-year old daughter -on the eve of her wedding.
Barry’s counterpart is Maureen (played by Dianne Simpson), the company’s HR director. She is an earnest corporate player but struggles with her own issues around aging, loneliness and mistrust of men. Confined together in a basement, the protagonists get to know more than they wanted -about one another. They enter into a fraught dance, triggering each other’s deepest issues and becoming mirrors for each other’s blind spots. As the tensions rise, the audience is left wondering if they will push each other over the edge, or help each other become unstuck?
Described as ‘fresh, funny and tragically Human’ by Megan Choritz (the Weekend Special), the play, at its core, delves into the roles we perform to meet what’s expected of us. As arts critic Robyn Cohen of TheCapeRobyn, observes, much has been said about the plight of women, so often over-burdened and under-valued as caregivers. Less visible, and less comfortable, are explorations of the ways in which men, too, become weighed down, tethered to domesticity and trapped by expectations of being providers in the traditional, binary sense of conventional marriage. Spanish Steps shines a new light on these fraught gender dynamics – from an unapologetically middle-aged white man’s view.
The play introduces perspectives on fatherhood that are not often spoken about. In conversation with Robyn Cohen of The Cape Robyn website, playwright Gavin Werner, who also plays Barry, reflected on how making sense of his own difficult relationship with his father fuelled his writing: ‘It was a tough relationship and I spent much of my own life completely befuddled by his seemingly difficult behaviour. At the same time as I grew older and started exhibiting some of the same traits as my dad, I was able to develop some understanding of what he struggled with and above all an appreciation of what a fundamentally good human being he was. He was utterly loyal and dependable. He worked incredibly hard and he sacrificed an enormous amount for the wellbeing of his family. And when the storm clouds of anger and depression weren’t brewing, he had a wonderful sense of humour. It left me wondering why so many good people; men in particular, exhibit the ugly behaviour that we now call toxic masculinity. A lot has been made of this phenomenon in the last few years but we seldom ask why it exists and if we do, we rarely ask the question in a spirit of compassion.’
Gavin Werner and Dianne Simpson vividly conjure up Barry and Maureen – two lost souls connecting and at times helping, at times needling and provoking, one another to see a way forward. Sensitive and tender direction by Caroline Midgely, melding two very different people together and embedding the audience in the journey so that they, too, can emerge with a smile and a sense of feeling upbeat.
Spanish Steps was commissioned for the curated programme at the National Arts Festival in 2022, and returned to the NAF Fringe Festival this year  to stellar reviews. ‘Littered with quirky moments while delving deep into the human condition, Spanish Steps is a masterpiece in triggering emotional understanding,” – Devon Koen, HeraldLive. Scroll down for link.
Spanish Steps will be at the Masambe Theatre at the Baxter 10 – 22 October, 2023. Book at Webtickets or navigate via the Baxter’s website
About Gavin Werner – writer of Spanish Steps and playing, Barry
Theatre credits include Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, David Stevens’, The Sum of Us and Mary Laws’ Blueberry Toast.
Screen credits – include over twenty five film and TV productions such as Black Sails, Wallander, Warrior and Vagrant Queen.
Gavin grew up in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. After finishing school, he enrolled for a performer’s diploma at UCT but then shifted to IT. After travelling and living and working abroad, he returned to Cape Town and resumed his theatre studies at ACT Cape Town and furthered his studies with the Mathew Harrison’s Actor’s Foundry, based in Vancouver. Gavin won a silver Standard Bank Ovation Award (2021) for his performance in Pete Malicki’s Extraordinary Unusual. His writing credits include his play, Spanish Steps, a short film, The Art of Peace and a screen play, FarAway.
Dianne Simpson – Maureen actor in Spanish Steps
Dianne graduated from Pretoria Technikon in 1996. She then attended the TVI Actors Studio course in LA. Theatre highlights include Spoof Full of Sugar (Sandton Square), The Sound of Music (State Theatre), My Fair Lasy (State Theatre), A Funny Thing happened on the way to The Forum (Civic Fringe Theatre), Blithe Spirit (Sandton Square), Without a Hotch, (Monte Casino Studio), The Taming of the Shrew (Maynardville), Into The Woods (Theatre on the Bay and Monte Casino) and Kinky Boots (The Fugard Theatre) .
Screen credits include – TV in Generations, Egoli, The Wild, Binnelanders, Heaven Can Wait and Legacy. Film includes: Passion Gap, Play By Heart and Bhai’s Café. Documentary re-enactments include: The Devil Speaks, The Grant Series and American Monster.
She was an on-set voice artist for the movie, Racing Stripes (Warner Bros) and she can be heard as the voice of Lillian in SA animated Movie Jock, The Hero Dog. She wrote a few episodes of Silly Seasons (motion capture animation series for e-TV) directed by Daniel Buckland and voiced the characters of Summer and Venus. Over four years, she wrote and voiced Sharp Sharp– the children’s programme for the SABC and was one of the writers for Legacy, Season 2 (2021). Dianne’s solo show Rose Red debuted in 2011. Its sequel, The Sisters Ugly, was staged at the National Arts Festival in 2017 and 2023.
Caroline Midgely – director of Spanish Steps
Caroline has a penchant for satire and shrewd social commentary and she enjoys exploring the fine line between comedy and tragedy with her actors. She discovered her love of directing while studying drama at Wits and at AFDA. Starting as an assistant director in Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang, she became known for her innovative and sometimes quirky techniques for helping the actors find their characters. Directing credits include her own productions of Hey Baby and Ain’t She Sweet. Theatre acting credits include Berkoff’s Decadence, Pinter’s The Lover, and a female Vladimir in Waiting For Godot . Her most recent television appearance was as Ruth in Tali’s Wedding Diary.
|Spanish Steps- the play by Gavin Werner
HeraldLive- by Devon Koen
The Cape Robyn- by Robyn Cohen
The Critter- by Nondumiso Msimanga
Cue – by Keren Banza
Regret, redemption and The Spanish Steps – Grocott’s Mail
Interview with writer and actor Gavin Werner
TheCapeRobyn – by Robyn Cohen
✳ Sponsored content. Featured image- Gavin Werner and Diane Simpson in Spanish Steps – the play- written by Gavin Werner. Images supplied.