On the anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death, Theatre Scene headed out to the chandelier heaven that is the Galloway Theatre to go see a show about the infamous 27 Club of which Amy with her passing at the age of 27 on 23 July 2011 became the newest members.
The show, aptly titled Twenty-Seven, starring Keren Lindley and directed by Cheri-Lee Blackie, gives the audience a School of Rock style glimpse into the lives of the most famous 27 Club members… were their deaths accidents, planned, the result of a vicious circle of events that keeps repeating? If so, what a cruel game the Fates are playing with such deeply emotional and talented individuals... doomed to be brilliant and to never find happiness. The search of happiness they could not find in themselves perhaps drove them to look for that happiness in sex, drugs and rock n roll? These questions were all explored through captivating storytelling and beautifully delivered songs that at times had the audience sitting in quiet contemplation, as a sign of respect to the rock legends lost at such a young age. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones… all gone way too soon, but living on through the messages they left behind in their music.
Theatre Scene (TS) caught up with Cheri-Lee Blackie (CB) to ask her a few questions about the show and also herself as director.
TS: Have you always been interested in the 27 Club conspiracy? If so why?
CB: I actually haven’t always been interested in this concept. I’ve always been interested in people’s lives and fascinated by their decisions as well as their reasoning. That’s what led me into acting and drama.
TS: Of the 27 Club members, who would you most liked to have met and why?
CB: I think it would be Janis Joplin. She was such an individual and her songs are so heartfelt and truthful. It is always great to meet people with that kind of passion. The fact that she was one of the only female singers in that era helps too. She strikes me as a very brave and courageous woman.
TS: Why do you think people are still drawn to the rumoured conspiracy behind the infamous 27 Club?
CB: When each of these artists died, the industry lost incredible talent and I think it is easier to believe that there were other factors contributing to their deaths instead of admitting that they were troubled and made bad choices.
TS: What can audiences expect of the #TwentySeven experience? What message do you want them to leave with after the show?
CB: I’d like the audience to have a new understanding of the lyrics to these songs and the space that the artists were in when they wrote them. Often we dance to the songs and forget the message behind them.
TS: What has working with Keren been like?
CS: Keren has been amazing to work with. Her voice is amazing and can do anything. She takes direction well and she has full faith in what she is doing. Her passion reminds me of Janis Joplin.
TS: Destructive behaviour and substance abuse seem to be the themes for many of the plays you’ve directed, Bentley Betty’s being case in point. Is there a specific reason you’re drawn to this type of material?
CB: I am very fascinated in the way the brain works and being in the performance industry you see destructive behaviour often. I’m fascinated by how our pasts can create such destructive behaviour and self-hate. And then that in turn affects the people around us. This has always fascinated me. I want to understand people’s decisions as opposed to judging them.
TS: You inspire young aspirant artists daily as the Waterfront Theatre School’s Head of Junior Drama. Tell us about your proudest teaching moment.
CB: There are proud moments everyday as a teacher. The proudest moment would be when you see a student understand and accept themselves as they realise their full potential. The look of pure shock when they realise that they are capable of amazing moments and messages all by themselves.
TS: What or who inspired you to pursue a creative career?
CB: I have always been interested in drama and have had great support from my parents, siblings and Delia Sainsbury. Paul Griffiths has been an amazing mentor to me and I wouldn’t have continued to create theatre if it wasn’t for him.
TS: What inspirational advice or message do you have for future ‘sneaker wearing dreamers’ that may not know where to start chasing their dreams?
CB: Face your fears and be prepared to fail. The more mistakes you make the quicker you learn.
TS: What’s your next big project/dream?
CB: I’m not sure yet, I would love to study psychology.
TS: Which song from the show best describes the Mother City right now?
CB: Piece of My Heart by Janis Joplin. I love this city and it is always surprising me. I always want to give more to people around me and I think that’s a concept our community could benefit from.
Join local singer/songwriter Keren Lindley in the Cheri–Lee Blackie directed Twenty-Seven, running at the Galloway Theatre until 25 July 2015, as she explores the stories and music of the musicians who pioneered and influenced many generations of music and died way too soon in this must-see musical tribute show. Tickets are R110. For bookings contact Sharon at 082 772 8867.