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SPOTLIGHT: Falstaff Play Co., the new kid on the independent theatre scene

Barbara Loots


There’s a new theatre production company on the theatre scene, FALSTAFF PLAY CO., the brain child of Daniel Newton and Aidan Scott. I sat down to talk with them (in sometimes colourful language) about their inspiration and future plans as they set out to make their mark on the independent theatre industry.


Newton and Scott clearly looked to Shakespeare’s character Falstaff when deciding on the name for their new theatre company. Falstaff, as presented in Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, is a boastful fellow, but also an insightful one. He serves as a dramatic device for Shakespeare and looks to be serving the same purpose for these bright-eyed young theatre makers.

Scott shares that initially they were considering names such as ‘Cool Dudes’, but when Newton suggested Falstaff they just knew that they had to go with it. Newton sees Falstaff as a bit of a forgotten character who recently found a reimagined presence in Joel Edgerton’s ‘The King’. That, and the fact that Newton loves Falstaff as penned by Shakespeare, inspired the suggestion. In fact, he loves the character so much that he started using his name descriptively:

“I actually started using a word, though I don’t actually know if I made it up or if someone else did, ‘Falstaffian’, like ‘That’s very Falstaffian of you’ when something is big and burly or funny or crass… We also didn’t want to be too important, so we just went, 'Okay, Falstaff Play Co., that’s it!'.”

Although the character's theatrical energy inspired them, Scott admits that Falstaff in his Shakespearian image doesn’t accurately represent what they want contemporary independent theatre to look like. They decided to change him into an animal, and what better animal to represent John Falstaff than a bear. So he commissioned someone to turn Shakespeare’s Falstaff into a burly, snappily dressed bear and things just fell into place for the Falstaff Play Co. image, which retains the theatrical essence of Fallstaff without making their production company feel dated or irrelevant. “It’s kind of an homage to old schoolness, while embracing newness”, says Scott.


Newton adds that the origin of the name is not intended to be a reflection on the type of plays they want to make, in fact the type of plays they envision producing may be the complete opposite. They both agree that plays don’t become classics because the playwright sets out to write it as such, it was simply a new work once and that’s the point of view they want to take with their independent theatre journey. If they find a classic along the way, they’ll embrace that (who knows, maybe they'll stage a Shakespeare at Maynardville one day too), but their intention is to contribute to independent theatre in a way that develops and diversifies theatre audiences.

Even though the plays they want to tackle may embrace classic archetypes and themes, they have ambitious dreams to shake the cobwebs off the safe approach to theatre and produce plays where the words ring true as part of a contemporary body of work. They have a vision of developing a theatre culture that matches the movie and music culture that attracts patrons of the Labia or the trendiest jazz bars.

“We see the people going to Labia, they hang around before the time, they watch the movie and then they stay and socialize afterwards. That's the experience we want to cultivate for theatre. Aidan and I wanted to start the company, because we have our contemporaries our age who go to an art gallery or a rock ‘n’ roll gig but they don’t en masse come to theatre; the only young people that come to the theatre are young theatre people. I don’t blame young people for not coming to the theatre, because it can be very boring. We want to change that. We want to make plays that are modern and relatable, like Louis Viljoen’s plays, that are cool and fresh.”

They want to be part of the conversation that takes theatre forward. While they acknowledge that there are traditional approaches to producing theatre that have become recipes for commercial success, it doesn’t mean that theatre should stagnate in those traditions as the associated audiences will eventually either evolve or disappear.

“We need to consider what our theatre going audience will look like in twenty or thirty years’ time”, Scott explains. They want to promote a theatre outing as a social night out, and in so doing cultivate a sense of community: “We need to ask ourselves how does life extend outside of just the watching of a play”.

They know that not everyone will always like every play they produce, but “we want people to stick around and talk about it”, adds Newton. “You should not make theatre more important than other art forms: you go to an art gallery and you have a drink, you go listen to some beautiful jazz and you go have a drink. Theatre should sit in that same realm; that social element is where you find the potential future of theatre”. It’s in that social space they see new audiences falling in love with theatre.

The importance of cultivating a more diverse audience is not simply for the love of art. They want theatre, especially independent theatre, to be a viable career option.

“And that’s the position we’re in”, Scott elaborates. “For me a lot of it comes down to what the career of a working actor, playwright, and director in Cape Town and Johannesburg, in South Africa as a whole, looks like. Are you able to pursue that as a career, have a family and pay bills? I don’t think many people can. Why is that? We have a couple of people producing work with a lot of money behind them, but there needs to be more opportunities for working actors, playwrights, and directors to create work”. The Falstaff duo reasons that if you broaden the theatre audience to include those who like to spend a night out at other live events, then the potential for a bigger, more sustainable independent theatre industry reveals itself.

“We’re creating opportunities”, Newton affirms. “I don’t ever want to be an actor that just sits around waiting for a phone call from my agent. We can do it ourselves, especially with theatre. I can’t wait to audition every now and then for plays I know I won’t get a part for. I’d rather get together with like-minded people and just put something on.”

“There is absolutely no reason that independent theatre can’t be a commercial venture either,” Scott continues. "It’s like when people say support the arts, save the arts, the arts is crucial to culture... don’t just support it, come and engage with it; engage with it the same way you engage with art in a museum or the way you engage with the latest film that has come out at the Labia”.


With Falstaff Play Co., they want to bridge the gap, to reach not only a theatre going audience, but a general audience that lives in the city and likes live performances.

Scott and Newton want people to connect with the work they create without trying to trick them with gimmicks or presenting them with overly sentimental plays that feel contrived. They're not going to tell you how important a play is before you’ve even seen it: They want you to see the work they produce, talk about it, and decide for yourself what your take-away is.

“Just do it, just do the thing that you want to do,” Scott exclaims. A perspective that Newton also associates with the movie director Spike Lee, who recently said at a Rolex event that you shouldn’t just try, you should do and carry on until it’s done. “So we’re going to do one play, and then we’re going to do another one and another one”, Newton agrees. “Even if one of those is bad”, Scott adds, “even if it isn’t received well, we’re just going to do it, because you learn from everything you do”.

Our conversation turns to the value you assign to any play. Just because a play doesn't give you the feedback you anticipated doesn’t mean the existence of the work has no merit. According to Scott there is already value in the mere fact that the play exists, because even if it didn't work for you immediately, someone else can see it and build on that.

You also don’t always have to create a play with just likeable characters to pander to the audience’s approval. An audience can see straight through that. This duo understands the value of plays that portray unlikable characters, as audiences can find flawed characters more relatable if they are presented in an honest way.

For this, Newton draws on one of his favourite plays:

“John Osborne wrote a play in the 1950s, ‘Look Back In Anger’ and it was revolutionary in that the protagonist wasn’t a 45 year old cookie-cutter divorcee just getting on with life, it was a young man in his mid-20s and this character was not likeable, yet you fall in love with him, even though he’s an arsehole.”

Newton juxtaposes this with the superhero Marvel movies that have fallen prey to the formula of producing the idea of perfect people, an image no real person can truly connect with. “People don’t trust that, you trust someone that doesn’t show you their good side”, Scott continues.

“That’s a huge thing for THE RANGERS”, Newton shares about their company's debut production that opens at the Baxter Theatre Centre’s Masambe Theatre on 15 March 2023: “Each character has a philosophy that can play both ways. Each of those characters have something very likeable in them and each has something that’s equally dislikable." Scott finds the humanity of a character in between those extremes, “when you get a glimpse into their private thoughts, there’s a human there that I can witness, and I like that”.

Scott and Newton understand that it is in those small intimate moments that an audience truly connects and relates to a character, that moment when they realise what drives that character and the persona they reveal to the world. Once that connections has been established and you discover why the character has certain unlikable traits, "you realise that you trust them [and their story] regardless of the fact that they’re a dick in some way”, continues Scott.


That doesn't mean that in facilitating those intimate moments you must add personal feelings to any script. “We just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture,” says Scott. While he appreciates that some directors want to bring the outside lives of their cast into the rehearsal space, for him and Newton that personal layer detracts from the respect one owes the words on the page.

“A lot of the processes that I have been in have been about how are you feeling today, how’s your heart,” Scott elaborates. “While I really do appreciate that, I think a lot of the work that I see is very sentimental and you don’t completely trust the sentimentality behind it as it isn’t earned, it’s just part of the process.” You ought to focus on the delivery required by text itself so that when an audience does get a sense of something sentimental in a play it feels real: an audience doesn’t want to pay to see your therapy sessions onstage.

Scott is “a big believer in whatever feeling you're supposed to bring to the stage is on the paper in front of you, it’s in the script”. Newton also believes that the process should be a fun one: “If you take it too seriously it’s not fun anymore”. Even if the text of a particular play may be heavier, the process should be enjoyable, respect the words and the people involved. It should be a collaboration in which director and actors explore the words together. That’s why Newton feels it’s important for a director to allow the actors to deliver the line in a way that sits comfortably with them and then discuss any additional performance changes from there. This is his approach in directing THE RANGERS, which he also wrote:

"What we do is we all have ideas and we all talk about it and try and find the best idea together, allowing everyone to find their way with the words. I often feel like the best ideas in the room are the actors’ ideas, so one should listen to their impulses in a scene with blocking and the delivery of the line. They’re the ones that are on the stage with the words. Rehearsing now with THE RANGERS I’m not the one who knows the lines, I just wrote the lines, so most of the time I would say ‘What’s your impulse?’ and see where we go from there.”

If you have that respect and balance between text, director and performers in place, you allow the play to speak for itself and “you don’t need to tell the audience how you’re feeling with your eyebrows,” says Scott, “you can just say the line and hopefully that will ignite a certain emotion that is actually just clear as day: serve the story and not yourself.”

That lack of ego is clearly visible in how Newton and Scott see Falstaff Play Co. contributing to the independent theatre industry.

They understand that audiences are there for the play, for the story, and that’s what you owe them when bringing something to the stage. Your main objective should not be to create a platform with the intent of showing audiences how good you are.

So even though Newton is the writer and director of THE RANGERS, he doesn't see himself as owning that role; he would love to have Scott direct him in a play, maybe a one-person play, in future and it doesn’t even have to be something he wrote. They both understand that people bring different skill sets to the table at different times and in independent theatre it is not about building a kingdom for yourself, but about working with people you like and who serves the work.


Going forward, in the same way they want to diversify the theatre audience, they also want to diversify the type of productions they bring to the stage: “We’re interested in a whole variety of different things, but I also think it’s important to have perspective”, Scott explains “to have stories that aren’t specifically South African, but then also to balance that with true South African stories.”

Just because they're playing in the independent theatre industry arena doesn't mean they aren’t dreaming big with all the stories they want to tell and facilitate.

“We wanted to start Falstaff Play Co., because we wanted to provide a little bit of competition to big theatre houses and producers, to just have a little bit of pushback between the work that we’re doing and the work that they’re doing, because no one should have a monopoly on theatre”, says Scott.

A position Newton wholeheartedly agrees with. Drawing inspiration from the words of one of THE RANGERS' cast members, Nicholas Pauling, Newton wants their theatre company's approach to independent theatre to “be the antidote” to the current style of safe theatre we so often see these days.

Scott thinks that part of that safeness is rooted in a sense of insecurity that he has observed amongst actors in Cape Town in recent years. Perhaps this is an insecurity that was born from the fear of rocking the boat of an industry that was left very fragile because of the impact of Covid. Born from that sense of insecurity he sees a misplaced sense of safety which “extends into the plays that people do, plays that are now quite similar, because it’s resulted in the fear of being something different.”

One thing is for sure, Falstaff Play Co. doesn’t want to play it safe, they are here to push the boundaries of independent theatre offerings and I hope that passion and bravery only grows with every play and collaboration. We need more brave, unique, Falstaffian voices like theirs who are willing to break the mould of safe (often boring) theatre and to invite the engagement of diverse audiences. Bring on the fresh, the daring and the shocking, we need more of that. Cape Town is ready and hungry for new, independent theatre productions.

You can see the Falstaff Play Co. produced THE RANGERS, a psychological thriller with dark comedic undertones, at the Baxter Theatre Centre’s Masambe Theatre (the new playground of independent theatre) from 15 March to 1 April 2023. Tickets are available online through Webtickets.


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