11 Questions with the Cast of The Suit – Rikki Henry

Rikki Henry is the assistant director of and appears onstage in The Suit.

What is your favourite play (either seen, read or worked on)?

Today it’s Uncle Vanya, tomorrow it’s probably Titus Andronicus, day after who knows.

What is your favourite midnight snack?

Ice cream. Rum with a bit of raisin.

What is your favourite word?

Amapotchefstroom. It’s in The Suit.

Proudest moment?

Learning to play a bit of Maid With The Flaxen Hair.

Favourite city?


If days were 28 hours long, what would you do with the 4 extra hours?

Watch French cinema, it’s all I seem to be doing at the moment.

If you could be in a room full of any one thing, what would it be?

Man Ray originals.

Dogs or cats?

Dogs that look like cats. Not Chihuahuas.

What is your favourite song?

At the moment, Cinematic Orchestra: To Build a Home.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?

The 60s.

If you could have any one supernatural power (flying, being invisible), which would you choose and why?

Telepathy. I have plans of world domination.

The Suit must close on 16 June. Book your tickets here.

Can Themba and The Suit

1955 Sophiatown
Photo courtesy of Jurgen Schadeberg

“Realism can be star-scattering, even if you have lived your whole unthinking life in reality. Especially in Sophiatown these days, where it can come with the sudden crash of a flying brick on the back of your head.”

Can Themba, Requiem for Sophiatown

Johannesburg in the 1950s. Against a backdrop of segregation, lawlessness, poverty, violence and racism stood Sophiatown. Surging with creativity, resourcefulness and crime, Sophiatown was a legendary black cultural hub that gave birth to some of South Africa’s most influential writers, musicians, politicians and artists – including Can Themba. It is the township in which Themba wrote his best work and in which The Suit is set.

The cultural renaissance of Sophiatown during the 1950s has been compared to that of Harlem in the 1920s. It was a place of contradiction; a heady mix of liquor and literature, drugs and journalism, music and murder, embodying both the best and the worst of South African culture. Themba was the product of a cultural renaissance and, at the same time, an atrocious abuse of human rights.

Born in 1928 near Pretoria, Can Themba gained an English degree and a teaching diploma. After moving to Sophiatown and winning a short story competition, Drum became Themba’s second family. The world-famous crusading black magazine of the fifties, Drum was a record of naivety, optimism, frustration, defiance, courage, dancing, drink, jazz, gangsters, exile and death. A way to vent frustrations and to celebrate successes, Drum changed the language with which black people were represented and ushered in a new era of South African literature.

Steeped in this culture Themba was dubbed ‘the shebeen intellectual’. The South African equivalent of an American speakeasy, the shebeens were central to Sophiatown’s existence – illegal drinking holes where the urban black community came to laugh, cry, swap stories, listen to music and drink. This, by all accounts, Can Themba did rather too well. Themba’s most frequented shebeen, where he was free to speak his mind about South African politics, became known as the House of Truth.

The government were fully aware of Sophiatown’s powerful influence. During the 1960s the township was destroyed and its inhabitants relocated. Themba fled to Swaziland and became increasingly isolated. The South African government claimed that his works were communist and they were outlawed. His alcohol-related death soon followed, likened by many friends to a slow suicide.

An alcoholic and an intellectual, Themba embodied the paradoxes of Sophiatown. He wrote at an intensely political time, but his work was rarely politically intense. As Themba wrote, the magic of Sophiatown was that: “It is different and itself. You don’t just find your place here, you make it and you find yourself.”

The Suit runs until 16 June.  Tickets available at youngvic.org.

Jurgen Schadeberg, known as the father of South African photography, photographed Can Themba and the people of Sophiatown in the 1950s. He graciously allowed the Young Vic to use his images for The Suit programme. More of his work can be viewed at www.jurgenschadeberg.com.

11 Questions with the Cast of The Suit – Nonhlanhla Kheswa

Nonhlanhla Kheswa plays Matilda in The Suit.

What is your favourite play (either seen, read or worked on)?

The Suit, lol…. The Zulu directed by Mbongeni Ngema

What is your favourite midnight snack?

I don’t really have a favourite midnight snack but I do like freeze dried pineapple chips.

What is your favourite word?


What are you most passionate about?

People, cooking, my family and legs, toned legs!

If days were 28 hours long, what would you do with the 4 extra hours?

Get some more sleep or spend them in a spa.

If you could be in a room full of any one thing, what would it be?


Favourite holiday you’ve ever been on?

Eastern Cape with my family in South Africa for a meditation retreat and to seek fortune… ha!

Favourite city and why?

NYC! Why not?

What is your favourite song?

My Way by Nina Simone (for now), but I have very many favourites.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?

It would be in Kenya, I’ve always thought the Masai are beautiful.

If you could have any one supernatural power (flying, being invisible), which would you choose and why?

To be able to snap a finger and appear wherever I want to be, whenever and with whomever.

The Suit is at the Young Vic until 16 June. Book your tickets here.

Rikki Henry and The Suit in Paris

Rikki Henry went to Paris to assistant direct on The Suit – and wound up featured on stage in the production! We sat down with Rikki to chat about his experience…

Tell us about your background – when did you first get involved with theatre? And how did you come to work with the Young Vic?

I studied Film Production at the University for the Creative Arts. I went on to do Young Vic director training in 2008, then was given to the opportunity to work on other shows and projects.

What has it been like working with Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne in Paris?

An adventure.

Had you seen any of Peter Brook’s work before?

I saw Fragments when it came to the Young Vic.

Has the rehearsal period been different from rehearsing for a play in the UK?

Yes. It is not quite a process you learn, but one you live. Sounds pretentious (sorry!).

Is this the first musical you’ve worked on? Has working on a musical been any different from working on a straight play?
The idea I think was actually not to make a musical but to make a piece of work with music, so that it is like speaking, but better.

Walk us through a day in the life of an Assistant Director – what is a typical day for you like when you’re rehearsing?

There is often a lot of working and reworking of elements in the play. So we start of just working thing out. I wouldn’t say it has a typical stance, it just haofrd work, a process  trying to find magic. Sometimes we do exercises, some times not, sometimes it one actor working at a time on music, or character etc..

What do you like most about The Suit?

Its heart. The emotional colours that have been found. Like the introduction of classical music.

Did you know about Can Themba before you worked on The Suit? What have you learned about his life and work?

I was told to do some research on him and his work before I arrived, I read as much as I could about him. He’s a great writer. A lot of love and death.

The Suit begins Monday the 21st of May at the Young Vic, and tickets start at £10.  Learn more about the show and book here.

Win a trip to Paris to see The Suit

The Young Vic, Time Out and World Stages London are hosting a competition to win a trip to Paris to see The Suit before it comes to London!

Winners will receive round-trip Eurostar tickets for two, a two-night stay in the luxurious 4 star Champs Elysees McMahon hotel, and tickets to see the world premiere of The Suit at the celebrated Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.  A new musical adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, The Suit is based on Can Themba’s heartbreakingly beautiful South African story of lust, betrayal and retribution.

The competition is free to enter and closes 1 April – enter here now for your chance to win!