Ashley Dowds takes over the reins from his hero in the hard-hitting production, ‘The Return of Elvis du Pisanie’

Ashley Dowds helms the classic stage production, ‘The Return of Elvis du Pisanie’. Picture: Supplied

Ashley Dowds helms the classic stage production, ‘The Return of Elvis du Pisanie’. Picture: Supplied

Published May 15, 2024


Despite it being years since I last spoke to Ashley Dowds, he remembered me when I called him to unpack his role in Paul Slabolepszy’s classic play, “The Return of Elvis du Pisanie”.

But that is the kind of person he is: personable and easygoing, with the memory of an elephant.

After shooting the breeze about moving to different cities, we delved into what’s been keeping him busy.

He said: “I’ve been in Cape Town for six years now after spending quite a lifetime up in Joburg. And mainly when I moved from Durban, initially, it was for TV. I just found a lot of the storylines were not suitable. I wasn’t doing as much work in Johannesburg.

“Then I came down to Cape Town and I found they service a lot more co-production work, so there is a lot more international work. There is generally a lot of international TV and film work and I’ve got into a bit of that.

“That has been great. And just lifestyle-wise, with the mountain and the sea, I’m really feeling good about doing that.

“I’ve done a feature film with a German film company and we filmed in Europe, which was really nice. So it’s the beginning of that kind of work.”

While Dowds started as a presenter before proving his mettle in acting, he says he’s passionate and invested in theatre.

And he is returning to Joburg for the stage production, which runs until May 26 at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre.

“The Return of Elvis du Pisanie” was first performed by Slabolepszy in July 1992 and it won several awards.

The production centres on a 46-year-old East Rand salesman, who, after being retrenched, decides life is no longer worth living.

While penning a suicide note to his wife, before gassing himself, he switches on the radio and hears an Elvis Presley song that transports him to 30 years ago.

As such, he recalls life events from childhood and adulthood and how they impacted the trajectory of his life path. He finds himself musing over what went wrong and whether someone can change their own destiny.

In shedding light on the role, Dowds first touched on his long-standing admiration of the work of Slabolepszy.

He shared: “Well, let me start with Paul because that is an important thing to mention. Paul has always been a hero of mine. And when I was at varsity, I staged, as an Honours production, one of his shows, I think it was ‘Travelling Shots’, and I was just hungry to see more of his work.

“Then I started teaching for a while once I had left university and did something similar, some sketches.

“By the time I watched ‘Elvis’, I was quite besotted by this; it was something that reached down really deep. It resonated with me in in a way a lot of the theatre I had seen before hadn’t.

“And you could see when Paul was performing it; it was something deeply personal too, which has its own caveat. It comes out of a personal experience. It is not autobiographical.”

He added: “When I first started thinking about this production, it was quite, and it still is, a daunting prospect to enter and inhabit that role of Edie.

“There’s some very specific style of storytelling. That’s the other thing about the show. You can’t really quantify it.

“People are going to be kept busy right until the end, wondering who this person is and what has actually happening. This is a play that is incredibly well-structured and it has so many facets that turn.”

Two decades later, such mental health struggles, which has become a serious cause of concern since Covid-19 hit, remain a relatable subject.

Dowds added: “The concept of ‘Elvis’ is quite extraordinary. He has lost everything. He arrives with who am I, where do I go. In asking all those questions, he arrives at a point where there is no turning back and, I hate to use this term, but he has to face his demons.

“There is something that looms in his life that he has never faced but he has to confront itm and when he confronts it, it is not easy. But it does liberate him. It enables a certain freedom. It is a cathartic experience.”

Does he feel pressure to take over the reins from Slabolepszy?

“Yes, Paul played it exceptionally well. It is daunting to step up to that plate. To take over the mantle in a way. There is a lot of pressure.

“But as we discussed, because he’s in every man; it’s really just being able to take the audience into the story. That is what it is about. It is not about me. It is not about Paul. It is about allowing the audience to experience it.

“It is not an easy journey but I think people recognise that there are other people like them. It takes a lot of energy – and bravery – but that’s how you find yourself.”

Please note, the show carries an age restriction of 13.

Where: Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre.

When: Runs until May 26, at 7.3pm.

Cost: Ticket prices vary between R150 and R200 and can be purchased through Webtickets.

The Unlikely Secret Agent

Written and directed by award-winning actor and playwright, Paul du Toit and based on the Alan Paton Award winning book by Ronnie Kasrils, “The Unlikely Secret Agent” tells a true story of bravery and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

It’s 1963, South Africa. The country is on a knife-edge. Political protest, sabotage and violence have engulfed the country. Government forces of the apartheid regime, under Hendrik Verwoerd, brutally suppress resistance.

Under the State of Emergency, the feared Special Branch of the police arrest anyone suspected of being involved in underground activities.

Ronnie is wanted for his involvement in a string of sabotage bombings of electricity pylons, the Durban post office and the offices of the Special Branch.

There is no point in her resisting, the police “know everything”. But do they really?

Eleanor is keeping a secret. She is a clandestine agent for the Underground ANC. But she must protect her comrades and Ronnie.

She makes the daring decision to fake a nervous breakdown in order to be transferred to a psychiatric institution. From there, she begins to plot her escape.

The production carries an age restriction of 14.

Where: Barney Simon, Market Theatre.

When: May 16 until June 2, at 7pm. Times differ on the weekend.

Cost: Ticket prices vary between R120 and R200 and can be purchased through Webtickets.

Alfred & Marc

Talk about a powerhouse comedy show.

Popular comedians Alfred Adriaan and Marc Lottering join forces to bring you their best material as performed over the past few years.

Both comics have been packing out theatres locally and abroad, and their respective fans can expect to be treated to two hours of sheer hilarity.

Where: The Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City.

When: May 16 to 17, 7.30pm.

Cost: Tickets cost R250 and can be purchased through Webtickets.