Theatre Interview: Sven Ruygrok – Ray Of Bite, Or The Beauty Of Drama

August 1, 2023




Winner of five Naledi Theatre Awards, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a theatrical masterpiece by acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin, In Bruge, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Hangmen). Recipient of four Tony Award nominations, the play is a darkly comic tale about the turbulent, dysfunctional, and often savage relationship between mother and daughter, Mag and Maureen Folan. Presented by How Now Brown Cow, the production played to overwhelming critical acclaim at Johannesburg’s Theatre on the Square in 2022 and is now set for a limited transfer season to Cape Town’s Pam Golding Theatre at The Baxter from 2 to 19 August 2023. Multi-award winner Charmaine Weir-Smith (The Train Driver) directs a stellar cast starring Jennifer Steyn (Recipes for Love and Murder, The Inconvenience Of Wings) as Mag, Julie-Anne McDowell (The Revlon Girl, Couplet) as Maureen, Bryan Hiles (Sweeney Todd, Cabaret) as Pato and Sven Ruygrok (Spud, Abraham Lincoln) as Ray.

Ruygrok reflects on his involvement in the piece.


In the lead-up to a new production, how do you prepare – physically, mentally and emotionally?

It truly varies from production to production, from one film script to a stage play. But let me speak specifically about my role as Ray Dooley here. The physicality of the character is where I began. I knew that would be the key. And then fate intervened in the form of a short film called Six Shooter – it was Martin McDonagh’s first film. There, I stumbled upon this young character who fit like a missing jigsaw piece, and the character of Ray Dooley hit me like a neon highlighter on a discount shelf. I then dove headfirst into Pinterest, creating a mood board that would make any interior decorator jealous. I gathered images of the time period, costumes, colors – everything that could transport me to the enchanting world of Galway, Ireland. Mentally, it’s like preparing for a battle, but with fewer swords and more monologues. So here’s my secret recipe for mental preparation: I start by devouring the script like a famished actor at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Rinse and repeat! But in all honesty, the great challenge is just remembering my lines. I suck at learning lines! The emotional preparation for a role is like riding a rollercoaster of feelings, with extra loops of intensity and a sprinkle of unpredictable tears. So, let me share my quirky method of getting into the emotional groove. I turn to my trusty sidekick: music. Music is the magical elixir that can whisk us away to unknown lands and stir up emotions we never knew existed. For Ray, I created a curated soundtrack, like a mixtape for his soul. The mixtape is for the person he is and for the version of himself that he wishes to be.


What is the single most influential performance you’ve ever seen – the one that made you feel, “This is what I want to do with my life!”?

Hands down, it was Mark Rylance in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.


What is your favourite aspect of the industry – be it specific people, parts of the production process, particular venues/locations, or something else?

I am never bored. I have the great privilege of diving into people’s lives, careers, finances, wardrobe styles, worlds and relationships for just a few short moments. And then, like an old Facebook friend, we hug, say our farewells, and move onto the next.


What is an aspect of the industry that you feel could be improved (even if that’s only an idealistic wish)?

That we had multiple thriving and well-funded theatres in our country. That there was a culture of theatregoers and not just content consumers!


What has been your scariest onstage/on-set moment so far (anything from forgetting words or cues to accidents or other unforeseen events)?

Appearing nude on stage as Alan Strang in Peter Shaffer’s Equus.


Tell us about your current production and what makes your character interesting to play?

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a cracker of a play. Those familiar with Martin McDonagh’s work know they’re in for one heck of a ride. It’s a whirlwind of love and betrayal. My character, Ray Dooley, is off the wall. He is young, full of bravado, and bored of this shabby old town. He is desperate to make something of himself. He is outrageous, comical and witty – a true Irish yob with a message to deliver that is the catalyst for the whole play. What’s not to like… right?