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DRUMMOND MARAIS FOR PINK FESTIVAL (article first published : 2006-11-15)

The face and voice are familiar; the setting is new. I recognise Drummond Marais' face from stage performances since the 1980s and his voice from voice-overs and narrations on television and radio, but I find him in a peaceful, tree-fringed garden in Cramond, a village so small it hardly merits a dot on the map.

Marais' most recent stage roles have been Billy Flynn in the major South African production of Chicago in 2005 and Professor Higgins in this year's State Theatre production of My Fair Lady. This was his swan song - he has now decided to quit the theatre, leave the city and have a complete change of direction. "Even if someone asks me, I won't go back to the stage," he says. "I've been acting since I was six - my mother put me on the stage." So now, he has decided to call it a day.

He explains that he and his partner, Gary Pitt, have had a long term dream to move to the countryside and, eventually, form a community of like minded people. They started off in Hilton, but after a few months, Marais found the mist - and the power cuts - beginning to get to him. It was then that they met Keith Britz at a craft market, where Marais was selling the greeting cards he creates with his own photographs, and Britz invited them to join him at his house in Cramond, number 10 on the Albert Falls Amble map. And that is where I met them.

Britz also has a theatrical and arts background, and is a veteran of the craft market scene, travelling around the province. But now the three of them are full of plans to open a tea garden, serving light lunches and teas. Marais has already had experience of the restaurant business in Johannesburg while Britz has done private catering in KZN. "We're going to call it Satori," says Marais.

"It comes from Vedic and means 'a moment of ecstatic bliss'. We have great ambition!" And, judging from the coffee and cake we are having, ecstatic bliss is a distinct possibility. The talk ranges around their future plans for Satori - there are always campers at Albert Falls during the holiday season. Maybe they could do a range of frozen meals that could easily be heated up and sell them to campers who come for tea or coffee. And they aim to do more outside catering as well.

But none of this, however pleasant, is what I have come to Cramond to talk to Marais about. His retirement from the performing arts is partly so that he can concentrate his energy on another art form - painting. His exhibition, Pitt-Bits, will be part of the Nottingham Road Pink Festival which runs from November 24 to 26 and then Marais hopes it will tour the rest of the country.

He describes the exhibition as "a celebration of masculine anatomy" and the works combine acrylic painting and digital photography in two-dimensional studies of the male physique, using contrasting textures and bold colours. Some of the pieces are small, others large, and all are striking, both in form and colour.

Marais says he has painted since his childhood in the then Rhodesia, particularly during his schooling at Que Que High School. It was his major subject at training college, and he taught art in Rhodesia and in London - but he admits that he was not a natural teacher. He turned to commercial art, but by 1982, the lure of the stage became stronger than the lure of art, and painting became a hobby rather than his career.

"My last exhibition was with Penny Coelen Ray (a former Miss South Africa) and fashion designer Sandy Day in the Alhambra Room at the Playhouse in 1991. They both paint, and we did an Aids awareness exhibition. That was my last formal exhibition, and then theatre commitments took over. But now, this is what I intend to do with most of my time."

It was impossible to establish himself as an artist when he was still acting, but now, with his new exhibition, that is what he is intending to do. The exhibition, in the "Cattle Trough", the hall next to the Cattle Arena in Nottingham Road, will be the first step on this road. Margaret von Klemperer




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