Musical ensemble cast supports CANSA

Gabriella Knight with some of the cast in the musical, Tiger Bay.

A teenage girl from Constantia Hills has landed a role in a new musical, chronicling life in Cardiff’s docklands in the early 20th century, set to have its world premiere in Cape Town later this month.

Gabriella Knight, 14, joins the ensemble of 15 boys and girls chosen from diverse local communities who have trained for months to perform as the Water Boys, a gang of street urchins, in the musical, Tiger Bay.

Gabrielle and the other girls in the play who had to have their hair cut for their roles decided to donate their tresses to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) so they could be turned into wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair while undergoing chemotherapy.

The Springfield Convent School pupil told the Bulletin that having her hair cut had been an emotional experience as it had been very long, but she had been determined to support Cansa.

“We told Tiger Bay what I intended to do, and they felt the same way and used the hair-cut session as a promotion for the production,” said Gabriella.

Artscape stylist Jerome Jonas cut the girls’ hair, watched by Mowbray-based Cansa representative Alison Scott. After each haircut, the children applauded and supported each other.

Nikita Latimer, also a water boy, recently lost her grandmother to cancer. Although her ponytail did not meet the required 25cm length, her donation was accepted and will be used for other hair-based products.

Louise Harvey, from Wales, who performs the role of Ianto, also had her hair cut.

Cape Town will be the first city in the world to stage the new production, which is a partnership between Cape Town Opera and the Wales Millennium Centre and will run from Saturday May 20 to Saturday May 27, at the Artscape. It will be staged in Cardiff in November.

Author and Pinelands resident Michael Williams, whose mother and grandfather both came from Cardiff, wrote the book as well as the lyrics for the musical, which is directed by Olivier- and Tony-award nominated director Melly Still. The story is set in the 1900s in Cardiff’s bustling multi-racial docklands although the story taps into universal themes. It’s a time of change with the town attracting workers from around the world.

The story begins when Themba, a Zulu man, who has tragically lost his wife and son during the Boer War, arrives in Tiger Bay. He finds work as a donkey man, hauling coal along the railway tracks and meets Ianto, an orphan who has to live by his wits.

“And every donkey man needs a water boy,” said Gabriella. “The director calls us meerkats: we live in the docks and have to be really tough to survive. We have to learn to live like a family, to be a team. We’re all really close. This is something we’ll never forget. We had to choose our own names. I chose Rhys, which is Welsh.”

She has had to learn to walk and talk like a boy and last week she had her hair cut even shorter.

Gabriella attends Anton Luitingh and Duane Alexander’s Musical Theatre Workshop (MTW). Run in the school holidays, MTW provides pupils training for the “triple threat”, acting, singing and dance. Gabriella, who has landed small roles in local pro-
ductions of The Sound of Music and Annie, studies music at school and dreams of going to London to explore an acting career.

“Now I’m so in love with it and I’m very sure this is what I want to do,” she says.

Booking for Tiger Bay can be made through Computicket or call Artscape Dial-A-Seat at 021 421 7695.