Theatre Interview: Anele Situlweni – Ruined, Or There’s Nothing Civil About War

August 1, 2022



Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined by Lynn Nottage makes its South African premier at the Market Theatre from 5 August – 4 September 2022, directed by Clive Mathibe. The ensemble includes film leading ladies and gents, Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala, Shoki MmolaFulu Mugovhani, Samu Maseko, Molefe Monaise, Edward Nkumishe, Thapelo Sebogodi, Anele Situlweni and Vaughn Lucas. Ruined is set in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It follows a life of the tenacious Mama Nadi, a businesswoman who is trying to stay afloat in a world torn apart by civil war. The war has ravaged her country, and especially the young girls who have literally been torn to pieces by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Situlweni chats about his process.


Live performance: the thrill versus the nerves – where are you on that curve as a new show starts? How do you find a balance during rehearsals or other preparation?

For me the thrill of getting the job is quite short-lived. Because I’m, to an extent, a perfectionist, I usually allow the thrill to dissipate gradually and allow the healthy nerves to set in, as I start to wrap my head around the creative journey I’m about to embark on. This ranges from character choices, to making meaning of the given circumstance in the text for both my character and the world of the play. However, these choices that I make are usually flexible and allow room for further exploration in the rehearsal room with the director and fellow actors.


In a best-case scenario, what are you looking for in a role? What is the main basis for that decision – the script, the people involved, the challenge to your skills, the impact (positive or negative) it might have on your life in general, or perhaps something else?

My approach to character is based on finding the truth in the characters, given circumstances in the text without any judgement, of course. We are in the business of make believe, but before that’s translated to the audience, which is the end product, the actor has to find the truth of the character and commit to it. I usually allow myself and the character to approach and find one another. I often enjoy playing complex characters who allow me to grapple with the human condition, which also helps me to make sense of my own existence and the world around me. Now, one might say these are heavy, but they are not. It is a creative process that allows you to deal with the complex life scenarios and people under imaginary circumstances and it an absolute joy when one immerses themselves in it.


Acting is often a vocation, a thing you can’t not How true is that for you now? Has it changed over the years – for practical, perhaps banal reasons? And how do you, or would you like to, keep your calling front and centre in your life?

The past two and a half years were extremely difficult. The creative hiatus that was imposed on me by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown restrictions made me realise how much I enjoy creating and being in a creative environment with like-minded people. The honour and privilege of playing a range of characters is not only work but a great way of travelling into a range of human conditions, thus bringing me much more in tune with self and those around me.


What are the toughest expectations to deliver on – all the way from the first audition to the end of the run?

I tend to want to fly before I can crawl! The learning of lines can be gruelling, especially when the text is dense. Apart from that, the challenge is to keep the character alive and nuanced for the duration of the run. I often don’t find this difficult, because characters have this magical way of revealing themselves to an actor who truly listens to them.