Stand up comedian Marc Lottering, has established himself as one of the top comics in our country. He has various shows behind his name, his first being ‘After the Beep’ in 1997 and he has won various awards for his work.
Together with his stand up material, Marc has created various characters who have helped shape his shows and have won the hearts of many South Africans.
Aunty Merle, a housewife from Belgravia Road in Athlone, is one of those characters who has become a favourite with his fans for the past 21 years or so. Her husband is Dennis the plumber, and as she puts it, were it not for Dennis “her drain would have still been blocked”.
“I started working on this 20 years ago. It is a celebration of where I come from.” states Marc as we begin chatting
From this woman, who is largely based on his late mother and various other community members he observed growing up, Marc has embarked on a journey to tell her story through a musical.
“All the characters I do have been inspired by my upbringing I am a keen observer of people, and we were a close family. I didn’t realize how closely I was watching my family until I started writing.” Continues Marc.
Aunty Merle the musical has received critical praise in Cape Town and now it’s Johannesburg’s turn to get to know this remarkable woman.
You touch on a few controversial topics like inter racial marriage. How do you address this to bring the point across, but to also make audiences relate?
“I want people to leave the show smiling while driving on their way home and then to continue smiling four days later. I have never been inclined to just drop issues, punch them in the stomach and to leave it like that. Comedy is there to make people think but ultimately it is also to make people feel good.”
“There must be the combination of making people feel good and making them think.”
“With this show, when it comes to tackling issues like inter racial relationships, gay issues, South African issues like the relationship we have with our helpers and how it impacts on their families, and what their families think about it, because of who I am, the approach naturally goes that way. The show has run for a year and people have responded because it is so honest. So you present it with warmth and leave people with that warmth. That has never been a challenge for me. I naturally do that with my work.”
We are all essentially the same- all cultures, religions… we all essentially have an Aunty Merle. Whether you are coloured, black, Muslim, Greek – we are all the same because we all have that family dynamic.
“Absolutely. I think that is why the show has resonated with people; people from every part of society. Fundamentally we are all the same; we fall in love, we fall out of love, there is somebody in your life who is not good for you, there is someone in your life that is good for you, there are people you should be with, and there are other people you shouldn’t be with. The story takes you through that journey which is actually so normal for all of us and that is how we present it on stage. We present it with beautiful songs and amazing choreography and we hope people feel that.”
You are used to being a solo act as a comedian, but now with a musical you have to find the right team – how did you find the right team to give justice to your story?
“Through a lot of prayer. I have been with my partner Anwar for 21 years. He has directed some of my one man shows and so for both of us, the stance has been that the play is important but what is more important is what goes on off stage, because that’s where most of the work and energy lie. What you present to people for 2 and a half hours, every night on stage is a beautiful package but the hearts of everyone on stage is felt by the audience. We can’t explain how that happens, but when people come out of the venue, there is something about the energy that fills the room. So when you talk about me having to select a team, those were the things in my mind; I didn’t want chaos, I didn’t want people with egos, I didn’t want drama, which is a weird thing not to want, considering the form we have chosen. We’ve been blessed that way. That is the only reason that we have been able to come from Cape Town to Joburg after a year with the same company, give or take a few actors had to move onto a few other projects, but the only reason the show is still shining is because of the energy of the people. Good hearts is what we look for.”
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
“There are a few. For some of them I’m not on stage when it happens, and then I think ‘shit I wrote good lines for that person’. My favourtie part of the show, is when the character Lydia, played by Tankiso Mamabolo, sings a song called ‘Someone Else’. The song is essentially about all of us discovering that someone has replaced us; when you look into your partners eyes you don’t see the same warmth, nor do they look at you in the same way as they did, and then you realise that and you have to deal with it. I’m back stage when the song happens. I stop when I’m busy with knee-highs and I know that ‘this is my song’. It is a song that just hits me.”
How is it playing this woman?
“It is so natural for me, because the character is based on so much truth; it’s about my mom and her friends. Being able to watch them so closely, has allowed me to tell the story with honesty. After the show, people wait for me and they go ‘ that’s Aunty Merle, that’s my Aunty Merle’, but you look at the person telling you that and she is standing with the cardigan over the shoulder and you go ‘honey it’s you’.”
“With this show and with my stand up, the minute I become another character, I try my utmost to get into the person’s head, because it is ultimately a real person. It is someone in our daily lives; it is the waiter who just brought me my toast or the cashier from hell. Ultimately the person has a journey and she got here for a reason. So I try to get into those stories. So when it comes to Aunty Merle and putting on the floral dress, and then putting on the doek, it is not a stretch if you stick to the truth.”
“I am the only one in my circle of friends who doesn’t take calls at 4:25pm because I watch Judge Judy. Judge Judy says if you tell the truth then you don’t have to dance around and think about what your story is. I take that outside the court room of Judge Judy and even when she is done at 5:30pm, I bring that on stage. Tell the truth. When you tell the truth, the stretch isn’t that far and the great thing about telling the truth is you know when you’ve gone to far. The minute I say something that that character would never say, the audience just knows . Go for the truth and honesty.”
You have had a beautiful response from Cape Town but Joburg is different – will Joburgers respond the same way?
“Fingers crossed. I’m going on my own experiences as a solo stand up comedian. I have come here for years. Joburgers get annoyed when you change things too much. They go to the box office because they know it is you and they know they are getting a Cape Town flavour, and that’s why they are coming. I think I would change very Afrikaans references that Joburgers couldn’t really understand. But in this show there are certain things for authenticity that we couldn’t change. We have a glossary in the programme so people can understand the meanings. It was such fun coming up with this official glossary.”
Would you ever embark on another musical?
“I would lie to you if I said no. This show has got a live band and it has 14 actors so it’s flippen expensive to run the show and we want the show to look good. We’ve stuck to that. I have worked with producers over the years and they said you don’t do this to make money initially but if it’s your passion you stick to it. I see that now. All we want is to be able to pay the actors and to treat people well. I have been on the receiving end of dodgy business people so I always want to treat people well. The process has been so right.”
“Do you know when you wake up in the morning and you go I’m doing the right thing and nobody can take you off that road? This is what this experience was and is. It’s on the right path, for Lara Foot to direct this. I worked with Lara on Scrooge, she did an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, and I did it with Andrew Buckland and Shaleen Surtie-Richards. We did that 4 years ago. I thought that would be it with her. I never thought that if I asked her for this that she would say yes. I called her, and she said I will call you back, and I thought that she was trying to come up with the right email ‘Further to our chat earlier, …’ but she didn’t email, she called back a few days after. She said that she needed to speak to her kids because she was going to go to India over the time we were meant to do the show and that India was going to be her catharsis and her spiritual trip for that year. She said she had spoken to her two kids and they’ve all agreed that this will be her India.”
Well, this musical is a feel good, proudly South African trip and could definitely be your India.
For more details and to book, click on the link: http://www.bsharpentertainment.co.za/aunty-merle-in-jozi/