Q&A with Michelle Belknap

Michelle Belknap will reprise her role in Sillage, the play written by Penelope Youngleson that received critical acclaim last year during its sold-out run. We chatted to her about the production and her role in the family drama.

Q1: Give us a brief plot teaser.

This is a beautifully written series of monologues and conversations between a mother and daughter who have come together to pack up their family home. In between the bits and pieces of their lives (and what they must decide to keep when they move) they find fragments of each other. It hones in on the tensions in relationships between parents and adult children – and specifically in a white, middle-class family in post-apartheid South Africa.

Q2: Who is your character and how did you prepare for the role?

I am the mother, and it was not difficult to relate to the character in the sense that, although I don’t have a daughter, I have two sons at a similar age and stage in their lives, and could definitely relate to the dense subtext running underneath the conversations. Plus I packed and moved my own mother several times! What was more challenging was coming to grips with the heightened, carefully choreographed, more stylised performances required of us by Penny Youngleson, the writer and director.

Q3: This play ran last year. How has it changed since then?

The previous run at Alexander Bar was our debut, which is always accompanied by uncertainty about how audiences will receive the play, what aspects will resonate etc. Happily, we received fantastic feedback, and since then we have performed at the National Arts Festival (where Sillage won the only Gold Ovation Award) and at the Hilton Arts Festival, so we return with a bit more confidence! From a personal point of view, Rebecca Makin-Taylor (who plays my daughter) and I have really had further opportunity to finetune both our spoken and unspoken communication onstage.

Q4: What did you enjoy most about the previous run?

It has been a huge pleasure to work with both Penny and Rebecca and I have learnt so much from both of them. But the most gratifying thing of all is the number of times we have been approached by audience members afterwards, who tell us how seeing this play has opened up wonderful conversations between family members, where they have unpacked so much that was previously left unspoken, and tackled some thorny issues. And that is what good theatre should do!

To book to see Sillage, click here. The shows runs at the Alexander Bar 20-25 February.

Image: Ivan Blazic, CuePix 

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