Roberto Pombo, who plays Dennis, who plays Perkins the Butler, in the Play That Goes Wrong at Theatre on the Bay, is as delightful off stage as he is on. Talking to him about his career and this play, there is a sense of ease, of knowing, that he is doing what he loves... Making people laugh! And in case you were wondering, he is good at it too! In the Play That Goes Wrong he pulls off hilarious stunts and lines, totally dead pan, resulting in an uproar of laughter from the audiences as he gets getting it wrong, so absolutely right.
Having always wanted to be a performer, with him and his sisters putting on shows for their parents, he eventually turned his childhood realisation that he can be funny into his career, graduating from Wits with a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts in 2008. His creative journey may have started with “making people laugh”, but he is also ever moving, developing and reflecting, sharing that “that it’s been quite nice” making a career out of being funny. “But then it goes from let me make people laugh for a career to let me make theatre, let me make art, let me produce and play with a genre. Let me see what is interesting. I like experimenting.”
Pombo is clearly a motivated and dedicated performer, even at such a young age, and it shows in the list of theatre and television performances he already has to his name, which include his recent delightfully dark creation Father Father Father! and seductive supporting role to Jemma Kahn in the sensational We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants.
Majoring in Physical Theatre and Performance, with both local and international training credits behind his name, the Play That Goes Wrong plays straight into his interests of movement theatre and clowning. As this is truly a physically demanding show, Pombo takes great care with his pre-show warm-up and preparation to avoid injury and to get into character. A process he confesses which includes walking around talking to himself in a bit of a British accent.
Pombo admits himself to be a performer who likes playing comedic roles with a bit of an offbeat edge, and the Play That Goes Wrong definitely fits the bill as it is created around the idea of actually missing every ‘dramatic’ beat it can. “I get to act stupid, which I kind of love doing”, Roberto shares. “It’s falling around, bashing into things… it’s mad, it’s quite scary sometimes. But it’s old school physical comedy, and I love it so much!”
Part of that love also stems from the incompetence of Pombo’s character, Dennis, a member of the Northriding Polytechnic Drama Society’s who is performing in their latest production the Murder at Haversham Manor. In that play within a play, Dennis portrays the role of the butler Perkins. Reflecting on Dennis as an ‘actor’, Pombo explains that Dennis is actually not very good at what he does. “It is kind of like he is just there to be with other people. He’s not really there because he wants to be, as he is not such a fan of being onstage. So he is not very good with his lines either, writing them down on his hands to just remember what they are.” A trick Pombo jokingly confesses is convenient for his real lines. “I still have ink on my hands! For the past month and a half, I have just had writing on my hands, I can’t get it off. Permanent tattoos,” he jests. “I look quite gangster actually!”
So with all the hilarity around abound, how does Pombo not corpse mid show, while experiencing his own character’s antics and witnessing the tomfoolery of his fellow cast members? Pombo smiling reveals, “Oh no, see the thing is that I do. That’s the thing. It is just about knowing how to hide it. It is very difficult, especially with Rob. Robert [Fridjohn] is just so funny. And actually everyone in the cast is hysterical. So there are lots of moments where we are all just biting our tongues. We all have a little bit of a corpse now and then.”
At the heart of the Play That Goes Wrong, Roberto believes “it is all about the panic onstage” as revealed through their amateur actor characters. So small things and details become very important to them in properly showcasing that feeling, which also allows for “small little difference in every performance”. Yet, it is still a blue print production, very close to the original script and design, says Roberto, “because the show works so well.” You may find certain interpretations by director Alan Committie just highlighting things a bit more, “so you’ll see there is an Alan touch to it… but we’ve been quite strict to sticking to the original.”
The South African staging of the Play That Goes Wrong definitely gets this award-winning play’s recipe just right. You will not regret buying your tickets to go see the gifted Pombo alongside the rest of the equally talented cast and crew throw almost everything onset, including themselves, at this play to make it a mad, crazy comedy frenzy that will bring great laughs to those witnessing this farce. Audiences will leave feeling amused and entertained.
Read the show review for more information and book your tickets at Computicket to see the Play That Goes Wrong at Theatre on the Bay by 17 June 2017.