Backstage with Jamie Barlett

06 April 2010 - 01:49 By Tymon smith

"I get a lot of plays. Craig Freimond showed me the script three years ago. It was monster piece and to find the crucible, balance and rhythm we have now has taken lot of work," says Jamie Bartlett of his involvement in The Death of a Colonialist, a new play written by Greg Latter and directed by Craig Freimond.

"Freimond and I are close friends. It makes it easier to come back with a close friend. My sister and his sister and his wife all did drama at UCT, we're all ingemeng."

While the shaping of the piece over those three years may have taken a lot of work, Bartlett makes no claims to being a practical part of that process as he admits in his self-deprecating way: "I'm just an idiot called an actor. I do what I'm told. I bring character options."

After the demise of Bartlett's baddy David Genaro in the soapie Rhythm City, he found the idea of returning to perform in front of a live audience scary. "In terms of vocal size and muscularity, it's not easy because the range of emotions is huge," he says.

Death of a Colonialist tells the story of David Smith, a passionate English teacher in Grahamstown with an obsession for the history of the Xhosa people. As his teaching methods become more novel, the school authorities start shopping for a replacement, but Smith holds fast to the idea that his belief and dedication to his subject will win the day.

Bartlett plays Smith, a man whose "imagination is totally submerged by the past. His great-great grandfather was Harry Smith, who was head of the British during the Xhosa invasion of 1834 and led to the atrocities committed against the Xhosa and their chief Hintsa."

Much of the history in the play is based on Noel Mostert's book Frontiers, but Bartlett praises Latter - for whom this piece is a return to theatre after years in the scriptwriting for TV and film games - for avoiding the trap of didactism by weaving the story "deftly into a family drama".

"The play weaves together the idea of white people now being apart from their families like back families were under apartheid. It also potently illustrates things about dads who are emotionally bankrupt. The play brings discussions that we are having in our family living rooms to the public," he says.

With Shirley Johnson, Theo Landey and Ashley Harvey making up the rest of the cast, Death of a Colonialist continues its run at The Barney Simon Theatre at The Market until May 2.

Once it ends, Bartlett is looking forward to "taking a big break, kicking back and doing absolutely nothing for a couple of months".