An SA theatre doyenne on the state of the local stage. Peter Feldman talks to theatre veteran Fiona Ramsay about her two Naledi Theatre Award nominations.

Fiona Ramsay is one of South Africa’s most gifted actresses who has been treading the boards for many, many years.

This year, two of the productions in which she shone, Doubt and Miss Diedrich Regrets, have been nominated for prestigious Naledi Theatre Awards, with the prize giving ceremony taking place at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, on April 19.

Now in its 12th year, The Naledi Theatre Awards reflect the vibrant and diverse nature of the South African theatrical landscape that exists today. Along with The Fleur de Cap Theatre Awards in Cape Town, they are the premiere awards for theatre excellence in South Africa.

Asked how she felt about being nominated for two productions, Ramsay said: “The productions were very special as both had been ‘personal projects’ for me and the creative teams involved. Therefore, it is hugely thrilling to be nominated for roles so close to my heart! Marlene had been someone I had toyed with paying tribute to in cabaret – and when Gail Louw sent me Miss Dietrich Regrets I realised it was my role. I had longed to play Sister Aloysius (from Doubt) since reading the play and the experience with the cast and director was wonderful.”

Asked to describe what the challenges were on two such different productions, she told me: “Playing a legend as iconic and well known as Marlene Dietrich is always challenging as so many people have different memories – the challenge is to embrace and investigate as many facets of her personality as is possible within the text. I spent most of the production in bed – aging movie star grappling with getting older, losing her glamour and youth and having to face her daughter and their shared histories – and find as much range within that bed as possible!”

Talking about Doubt, Ramsay said it was a “finely crafted play with clear characters and of course a film exists of the work – the challenge is not to be swayed by previous interpretations. Sister Aloysius Beauvier, belonging to an order of stern and stoic nuns – where expression is neither voluble, expansive or visibly emotional – and one of the challenges was how to express the gamut of far reaching and unshakeable belief and commitment within these restrictions.”

Ramsay reveals that she never relaxes in the true sense of the word, but enjoys working, interacting with other actors or students, giving Master Classes or going to see theatre. “This is what I would call relaxing,” she says.

She regularly does exercise: gym, yoga, pilates and the odd ballet class. She loves hosting parties with full a vegetarian spread – as “laughter over meals is the quintessential relaxation” – but going on safari to the bush is how she truly unwinds and recharges the Ramsay batteries.

Asked what she thought of the state of South African theatre, she replied: “Theatre reflects society and ‘holds the mirror up to nature’ as it were – and therefore echoes and interrogates all that is going on around us at any time. I think we have an amazing mix of theatre in terms of content, style and form which reflect the many different expectations of what theatre is. There are many new plays being work shopped or written and sometimes produced but think there are existing works that can be reinterpreted as relevant to our context and would like to see more of these produced.”

The Naledi Theatre Awards event is open to the public and include the pre-show cocktail party and wine.

It takes place at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, on Tuesday, April 19.