“Hedwig starts off as a trivial drag show but it takes a turn and it goes to a visceral place. It touches everyone differently – some people might latch onto the social, sexual commentary, some onto the transgender, some latch onto the spousal abuse, some onto the Christian/ Judaica myths and legends that are woven throughout and the challenge to religion. Everyone latches onto what it means to them, it is such a dense piece with depth.”
“Up until now we haven’t played with a band and now with the size of the venue we can fit a live band in. These guys are awesome. The one muso was saying how lekker it was not to play a musical, each song is a self – contained rock song or ballade or country song…” – Paul Du Toit.
As I sit down with Paul Du Toit, who plays the role of Hedwig in this cult musical, the passion for this piece oozes out of him and it is infectious.
I saw this musical in 2015 in New York on Broadway – with John Cameron Mitchell as this narcissistic, deeply troubled, multi-layered being. I loved every moment, and was so thrilled to hear that it was coming to South Africa.
“We have come though a different journey. The Yitzhak character became a musician in the original piece I performed in Cape Town – the Yitzhak character had a keyboard. What we have also done now, is because we had a small venue we couldn’t have the band on stage. In the movie she refers to her caravan. So we have her siting in her caravan for this one and the band floating around her. A lot of the gags we worked in were with Yitzhak played the keyboard over the tracks. So we have now incorporated the band and her. I much prefer the situation we have now as everything onstage is integral to her story.” continues Paul.
The thing that impressed me the most about the show is the Ad libbing – Hedwig is as sharp as a tool, cunning, witty, smart and the audience interaction is key.
“I have my script, but I have my arsenal if I need it. The audience has such an influence on the play. I am curious to see how Joburg reacts. In Cape Town, at Gate 69, the audience is a little bit more boring as you are preaching to the converted – the audience accept the gay, transgender, etc conversations. Whereas in Joburg I think I might have to work harder. We had a run at the Hilton Festival so we had a deeply conservative audience, watching this at a school. That was fascinating. For them the religious stuff hit home. Dying for rebirth. The two holes that were separated. The bizarre idea of the apple, the knowledge – the gift god gives you and then resents you for: it’s the contradiction.”
But Hedwig isn’t just a drag stand up piece – it is so much more.
“Then the genius of the play, you have a man who has become a women, a man playing him. Then you have a woman playing a man who is a drag king. It becomes a blur of interconnected trangenderism. It isn’t important where we draw these lines. Then there’s Hedwig being German, who abuses Yitzhak, a Jew. That is challenged. At that stage the play makes you laugh and then questions why you laugh.”
“Cabaret and satire tickles you with a raiser blade. There are thundering silences in this play, depending on who you are. We never know where it is going to be. It is a wonderful piece to do.”
“I obsessed over this piece when I saw the movie. The movie was funnier for me, rather than hard hitting. I think the Hollywood producers decided to make it lighter. I find the play much harder, especially when I see the audiences’ reaction.”
“As South Africans we are a little darker than Americans. We have all been affected in some way by violence, death and rape, murder is imminent. It sits more easily with us. I think we are a darker people. So our art goes there. It is who we are.”
Preparing for the role?
“I realised that I have no particular bias in this play. I am not gay, not transgender, not German, not Jewish, not abused, nor an abuser. I can look at all of this from the outside. I don’t have any agenda to push. This was a decision I made – to find the human being in the story. A person never judges their own actions, they see it as very justified and right. They don’t judge their reasons. Hedwig isn’t a likeable character – she is abusive, anti-semitic, narcissistic, the only thing that saves her is her wit. She can sugar coat all this offensive behavior with this delicious vocabulary. Other than that she is hideous. The only thing that redeems her is at the very end saying to Yitzhak – have your moment and be free.”
So how did you tap into that narcissism?
“We all have all of those inside us. As an actor I find the reason behind it; it is not the action, it is the reason. You aren’t just a wife beater, you are insecure and we all have insecurities, so I find that and I go to that feeling. I can find those things in me. We all have moments where we felt we were treated unjustly, and so it justifies our mistreatment or unjust treatment to others. So I find those things and then amplify it to her level.”
The cross dressing, the costumes…?
“The fascination with cross dressing – we all did that as kids until someone told us it was wrong.”
“Obviously there is a huge hair piece which was hand made in London. She is a creation on her own. From day 1 in rehearsals I asked to wear my shoes, because I am a shoe actor; I have to put on the shoe of the character first because it is how the character touches the earth. Certainly once you put heels on, the angle of your pelvis changes, you become more feminine, your back will arch… immediately once you put on that shoe, your body takes on a feminine shape. Then the walk changes and becomes second nature. It also gives me height over little Genna.”
“Fantastic costume design by Neil Griffin – drawing from the original with its own twist. It’s a denim outfit but mine has a little bit more of a bikini thing with an 80s midriff.”
“The face is book – you don’t mess with that. She has very specific eyebrows, which are tragic clown eyebrows, so a very sad shape. If you put a mask on a mime and make the mime do the action of crying and laughing, they are almost identical. That is her make up. I love the layers in this character.”
Is there a particular moment or scene that you love in the show?
“Tommy and Hedwig have this strange relationship – There is a lovely moment when Tommy finally finishes writing the song called ‘The Long Grift’ and manages to find the C chord that follows the G, which completes the moment, and again, they are two opposite chords that come together – that metaphor is so beautiful, and when they come together then you hear completion. The beautiful thing about music is that it sets up an expectation. When he finds that chord, Tommy realizes ‘when Eve was inside Adam they were in paradise’ and then when they were separated that’s when paradise was lost, so when she enters him again, paradise will be regained’. Then Hedwig undercuts him and says ‘that’s right honey, ‘do what you want to do just kiss me while we do it’.”
“All the other characters in the show are played by Hedwig, they are told from Hedwig’s perspective. Everything you need is to complete you inside you. We are all made up of that which has shaped us, it is all inside us. If Yitzhak played those characters it wouldn’t have the same effect. Yitzhak’s role is that of the audience, he represents the audience observing Hedwig. “
For more details, click on link: http://www.bsharpentertainment.co.za/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch-2/