Here is my interview with Muriel Clutten which I did for the book 'Art and Creativity in North Cyprus' (English and Turkish).
See also link to my review of her last exhibition: http://www.heiditrautmann.com/category.aspx?CID=4325777638#.VCa3sGeSzg8
Painter and actor
born in Cape Town/South Africa in 1932, living permanently in Cyprus since 1991
Painting and theatre – two life passions
I find most artists follow two tracks. Often, there is one main path but occasionally, due to circumstances, they jump over and enjoy a ride on the other one. These tracks are usually found and followed due to the influence of parents or partners.
That was the case with Muriel Clutten. Her parents gave her such guidance, her father being a lecturer in psychology at the University of Cape Town and her mother a writer. We could say that she was being fed with the milk of art and respect for humanity from the cradle on. The plight of humanity in South Africa was in those days the principle pain in that society. “Watch your words”, “Watch your step” – that was what Muriel grew up with in her white intellectual household. And for as long as I have known her, she has always watched her words. She observes and hesitates before speaking out, but, as I recently saw again, if let loose on a theatre stage, she is an absolutely different personality. She is born for the stage; there she can say everything, because it is another character speaking. This also shows in her paintings, where she dares more than she speaks.
Growing up in Cape Town meant, as it does in all British expats communities, participating in a wide playground of activities and talents. As a German, I do admire this peculiarity of the British. Wherever they are, they immediately establish libraries, country clubs, charities for dogs, cats and cancer sufferers .... and amateur theatre groups.
So, Muriel studied English literature and drama at Cape Town University, although she played with the idea of studying fine arts. Painting has always been her first love, but drama was her first step, which was soon interrupted by her first marriage to a sculptor. Then she had a baby. It was a short-lived marriage, and after divorcing, she took up her studies again to obtain a BA degree. Destiny took over and she found herself in the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia, where her sister was married to a mining engineer. There she stumbled right into the rehearsals of the existing theatre group for John Patrick's play The Hasty Heart. She got involved with the play – and with the leading man, John Clutten, a geologist by profession but a passionate theatre man. It was an important crossroads in her life. That was in 1959 and they got married in 1962. Mining people and geologists moved around in southern Africa and in 1975, they relocated to Bindura in Zambia – which Northern Rhodesia had been renamed in 1964. It was a smaller mining town but with an enthusiastic theatre community. Both John and Muriel were enthusiastically welcomed into the Bindura Theatrical Society, Muriel remembers:
“We did very good plays and received very high praise. There was one play, the one I have particularly good memories of, which was Exit the King, in which we both had parts, John in the leading role. When I had the chance to see such plays in London, I found that several of our actors and directors were just as good.”
There her other passion, painting, caught up with her again. She painted scenery for the plays, and pushed by her husband – as well as bringing up five children – she started studying fine art with Unisa, the South African Open University. During those hours in the theatre, she was never without her sketch book and the scenes on stage gave her ample opportunity to sketch away and paint. She had to be quick in perception and transposition, as quick as the movement itself, and that has become one of her strong features. I would like to say here, that having seen most of her paintings and drawings over the past four years, I can see her stage experience in them; the settings and scenes, how to highlight and how to use light and shadow, the exciting manifestations of bodies moving in light, and the perspective she applies to induce a limitlessness. She says: “My main equipment for scenery painting was a sheepskin roller with an extension and big brushes. I had to create the scenery so that the viewers in all rows of the house would know what it meant.”
“I enjoyed my life tremendously, acting and painting, living there and working for the theatre with John was so inspiring. We moved again in 1980 to Salisbury. That was the year of independence. Salisbury, capital of Rhodesia, was to become Harare, capital of Zimbabwe.”
Muriel and John settled and were soon members of the Reps Theatre with its own 480-seat auditorium. And here Norma Warner, lighting woman for Kyrenia Amateur Dramatics Society (Kads) and with the same role in Harare, shares with me her memories. “The Reps Theatre was founded in 1931 and plays were shown in all sort of places, just as it is with Kads now, but in the 1950’s, two members had the excellent idea of introducing a membership to support the Drama Society. Eventually they built their own theatre and could soon afford to pay office staff to run the “business”. We had several shows a year, drama, comedies, musicals like My Fair Lady and Jesus Christ Superstar, and shows would run at least for two weeks, good ones for even three weeks.”
So, when the Cluttens came to Harare, the Reps Theatre was in full swing and Norma says “They were excellent actors and were loved by their audience. When a play was planned, our evenings were mostly spent at the theatre. We had our jobs: I had to coordinate the lighting, Muriel did the scenery painting, besides acting, just as with Kads here, but in Harare the dimensions were different. Very strict rules were observed when learning the text and preparing the technical side.”
In 1986, Muriel was nominated best actress in the leading role as Lydia Crutwell in In Praise of Love. The Reps Theatre is still fully functioning today and Norma has still connections with Harare. “There is a serious petrol shortage and I wonder how they still manage to produce plays.” I looked up the website. Reps still have 630 members but they are sad to announce the death of Adrian Stanley, their director since the 1960’s.
From this background, Muriel and John came overseas, firstly to Ankara in Turkey where they moved in 1987. They have had a house in North Cyprus since 1972, and when John retired it was to Kayalar. Once here full time, they immediately joined the already existing theatre group Kads (Kyrenia Amateur Dramatic Society) with the then three active directors, one of whom was Dotty Jowett, now aged 94. It meant working on a very small scale but they were soon absorbed with the same passion. They rehearsed and performed in whatever rooms were available, with their audience faithfully following them. People still talk about their performances in plays, Muriel especially in Lettice and Lovage or The Biscuit under the Sofa and John’s brilliance in Separate Tables and An Inspector calls. I personally saw him in The Dock Brief in Edremit, in the summer of 2003. The following October, John died while they were on a visit in South Africa.
For a long time, there was absolute silence from Kads and it was only at the end of 2005 that Muriel, together with Pam and Roy Bennett, who came here with longstanding experience in the theatre, worked together on a new play. In January 2006, Kads lifted the curtain again with two plays in the same year, the pantomine Cinder’s Beanstalk at the GAU, written and directed by Sandra White, and The Odd Couple directed by Roy Bennett in the Anafartalar School. Muriel is now back in the theatre and many are delighted that this is so, along with the return of Kads. “It is small in number but strong, although we could do with some more men,” says Muriel. Kads is working on its new play for release at the end of October 84 Charing Cross Road and Muriel will be director and – it goes without saying – also scenery painter.
What fascinates her about theatre? “Every production is a huge challenge. It stretches you, and when the whole team is working together to pull out all the stops, it can be a tremendously rewarding experience. And when in the end we know that we have given our best to reach the highest standard we can achieve, then we feel it ... that is: theatre.
(Published in Cyprus Today on 16 September, 2006)
Note by the author:
For her solo exhibition in September 2007, Muriel chose a series of pictures showing scenes from the area where she lives, Kayalar. In all kinds of weather, Mount Kornos, the most westerly peak in the Kyrenia mountain range, gives Muriel a reason to stop her car and capture the scene in her sketchbook: in winter, the ever changing skies with dark banks of clouds, in summer, the vast ranges of hills; folds and textures of the rocks set against the dark blue of the sea. In many water colours and pastels she created studies of the ramshackle cowsheds near her home, which hang over a ravine, against a backdrop of an array of rubbish tumbling down the hillside like an avalanche. All of her work, including images of the human body – which was her subject for a long period – deals with both light and space. To Muriel painting is an eternal experiment, an examination of how light constantly changes the appearance of space and form.