David Ralph Viviers & Zoë Mclaughlin chat about “The Last Five Years”

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David Ralph Viviers

David is a Cape Town based film and theatre actor. He graduated in 2014 from UCT (Theatre and Performance) and is currently completing his Masters in Creative Writing. In 2016, David was the recipient of the Brett Goldin Bursary award which allowed him to study with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a month in Stratford-upon-Avon. For his work in both English and Afrikaans theatre, David has received several nominations including Fleur du Cap, Kanna, and Fiesta nominations. Career highlights include playing an overly enthusiastic mime in the Afrikaans comedy Klara Maas se Hart is Gebreek (written and directed by Wessel Pretorius), playing Lady Macbeth in Fred Abrahamse ‘s Macbeth and playing the virile virus Rabies in Jemma Kahn’s Cellist with Rabies (directed by Jaco Bouwer).

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Zoë Mclaughlin

Zoë is a freelance vocalist and musical theatre performer based in Cape Town. She graduated from the Waterfront Theatre School (WTS) in 2018. During her time at the college, she received the following awards: The Richard Loring Trophy for most outstanding performance (2018), The Gillian Lynne trophy for most outstanding individual performance (2017) and the award for best overall dramatic performance (2016). In 2017 her role as Mother Superior in the WTS production of Sister Act garnered her a Fleur Du Cap nomination for the most promising student.

Her production credits include playing the roles of Hope Cladwell in Urinetown (2018), Mother Superior in Sister Act (2017), and understudy to Mable in Pirates of Penzance (2015). She was also one of the original cast members of the revue Sondheim Etc. that ran successfully at the Galloway theatre and Alexander Bar in 2017 and 2018 respectively. She has also worked on children’s theatre productions with Cheryl Abromowitz, playing the role of Princess Arabella in her 2017 production of The Frog Prince and as Snow White in their 2016 production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

TV Series Hub: Welcome to TV Series Hub, David & Zoë, please introduce yourselves to our audience.

David: My name is David Viviers, I am a 27-year actor from Cape Town. I do a lot of work in local theatre and film here. This is my first musical ever. I am very excited, but it is terrifying to push yourself, but a good terror – to come out of your comfort zone is always exciting.

TV Series Hub: Why the change of scenery?

David: I wouldn’t say it is a change of scenery, but more of adding more scenery to what is already there. I think I was at a point where I told the universe I was ready for new and different things. Then this came along and I was like “Woah okay thanks”. It is exciting to try new things in terms of the art doing as much as you can and keep pushing yourself.

Zoë: My name is Zoë Mclaughlin, I am a freelance vocalist and musical theatre actress. 

TV Series Hub: You both come from different backgrounds, David you hail from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Zoë you studied at the Waterfront Theatre School. How were your experiences and student life? How did you get an ‘in’ to the industry?

David: We had a 4-year degree, at the end of the degree we had a showcase where agents were asked to watch. We were quite lucky a lot of us got picked up directly from there and that made the transition to the industry easy. I think that is the biggest thing of studying, apart from what you learn it is actually kicking you off to the industry that UCT provides.

Zoë: I started studying something completely different – Bcom PPE – it was not suited to me at all. I have always had a passion for singing and knew at some stage to work as a performing artist. I heard about the Waterfront Theatre School and at the time it was the only college for Musical Theatre, so I auditioned. 

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Zoë and David on the set of “The Last Five Years”

TV Series Hub: Jumping right to it, ‘The Last Five Years’, how would you describe the play?

David: It is a very intimate story, people think of musicals as a big kind of thing – chorus and dance – it is not that all but almost opposite. It is sad but beautiful, it is funny, charming, lovely and it makes you question your own relationship or views about a relationship without hitting you with some kind of moral.

Zoë: It is essentially a love story, not a typical love story. It explores the complexities and dynamics of relationships, people balancing pursuing their own goals while also supporting each other. It is about two people meeting at the wrong time in their lives. 

TV Series Hub: What are your roles in the play? 

David: I play Jamie Wellerstein, who is a Jewish boy an aspiring writer and he falls in love with Cathy – an aspiring actress. They are both in the arts and confident and living in New York.

TV Series Hub: What do you think the message behind the play is?

David: I don’t quite believe in messages behind shows, I think it is more about what the show can reveal about the audience and themes. I think this play looks into the mechanics of relationships and why sometimes they don’t work, or fall through, whether it is one person’s fault or both, a timing thing, or it could have worked in another circumstance. There is no 1 message but more about how the show makes you feel about your own life.

Zoë: I play Cathy Hiatt, an actress who is having a hard time finding her feet in the competitive New York theatre scene.

TV Series Hub: How do you get into the roles of your character? 

David: I am still finding it, we have some time left. I haven’t done singing before and as soon as I start singing, it puts me in a completely different world. It is nice, because normally with theatre acting you have to find a hairstyle, shoe or accent, but for this, the singing launches me off into it.

Zoë: It happens gradually during the rehearsal process. We are lucky enough to have, in Paul Griffiths, a director who spends a good amount of time analyzing the journey and arc of each character which helps you to understand and connect to them. It is really listening to what the characters are saying, knowing the musicals backward and trying to relate.

TV Series Hub: Any rituals you do beforehand?

David: I do. It changes depending on what the play is.

Zoë: I don’t have any rituals. 

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Zoë and David are a couple on “The Last Five Years”

TV Series Hub: You are a couple on the show, and interestingly you only meet once during the middle of the show, how important is that scene for the play?

David: I keep changing my views on the play. I would say it is the most important thing, but I am not sure now if it is the most important thing. In a way, they have been moving past each other a lot longer and it lessens what you feel happens in seeing how different they are and the different places they are at. The meeting is important, but you kind of realize at some point they never really connected – which is kind of sad.

Zoë: I think that it is the focus in the play, it is the point at which their relationship takes a big turn, and they start moving apart emotionally.

TV Series Hub: Cathy’s story is told from the end and Jamie from the beginning, what is the beauty of such storytelling?

David: We have discussed this quite a lot. I see this as 2 ships going to each other, then at some point, they meet each other and then go past. Cath’s is going backwards as she is the reflective one, she is looking back to see where it went wrong and why it didn’t work out. Jamie is going the opposite direction, it is also showing how they aren’t moving in the same narrative and they have different paths. They are not quite connected.

Zoë: When you look at these two characters, the break-up of their relationship which is the point where the show starts, because of the stage they are in their lives – on what they value – it affects them differently. Jamie is a lot less affected than Cathy, he is able to move through that quite easily, he is possibly a lot more selfish. Cathy, at that stage, her life comes to a standstill, she then reflects back where it went wrong and what happened. Jamie is on a forward path. 

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David plays Jamie Wellerstein – an aspiring writer

TV Series Hub: “The Last Five Years” is an adaptation with international productions based on it. What do you envision for your play?

David: I don’t know if we have any plans after this Baxter run. We will see how this goes, which is fine for now as it is my 1st musical – I am happy to take it slow. But hopefully, we can fill out the theatre.

Zoë: We hope for some touring, who knows, it all depends on how the production goes.

TV Series Hub: Theatre is different from films in terms of not having a ‘cut’ option. What is the secret behind it?

David: I think not worrying about not making a mistake and seeing mistakes as gifts. If something goes differently, it immediately makes things present and gives you a chance to do something different and find a fresh way to do it. I have never had that problem, it is nice when things go wrong – obviously not the lights falling on someone’s head – it is more artistry and carrying your emotion through from the start to the end. With film, it has beautiful artistry, but a lot of it lies in the editing and you can get away with stuff you can’t on stage – there is nowhere to hide. 

TV Series Hub: So is there a lot of improvisation in Theatre?

David: Improv has a bigger role in film. In theatre, you have to have a set structure you have to fall back on, you can still have fresh moments but I don’t see them as Improv. Because Improv means anything could happen, there is a danger in doing that – the story could change or you could throw your partner off. It is about keeping the structure but letting it sparkle.

Zoë: We hope. You think “I can’t believe I will be on stage by the end of the month”, but by the end of the rehearsal process, you are so comfortable that if anything goes wrong it will be minor. 

TV Series Hub: How are the rehearsal timings?

Zoë: We rehearse for three weeks, three to four hours every day, except for Sundays.

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Zoë plays Cathy Hiatt – an actress

TV Series Hub: Thank you for joining us, in a few words why should people watch “The Last Five Years”? 

David: Firstly, Zoë is amazing, I think she should be on Broadway, so come for Zoë. Also, the play itself is beautiful, tender, sad and lovely and I have never seen a musical so intimate and sensitive – they are normally flashy and performative.

Zoë: I think it is something everybody can connect to. It says a lot about the human experience and the music is great. Thank you.

“The Last Five Years” will be running at the Golden Arrow Studio in the Baxter Theatre Centre from 19 March to 4 April Tuesdays to Saturdays with matinees on 28 March and 4 April.

Photo credit: Andrew Gorman
Design credit: Hanco Kamper