Johannesburg – Steven Stead is the executive director of the highly-acclaimed, multi-award-winning KickstArt Theatre Company. Here, he chats to us about his most memorable holiday experiences.
First holiday memory?
My parents had a camper van, and my brothers and I would bundle into the double bed above the cab, and lie there watching the world fly by until we got to the bush destination that my dad had chose to visit.
I especially liked lying there when we were driving at night through country roads; we were the only light I could see and I felt so safe and warm, flying through the headlamp-lit thorn trees and scrub.
Favourite places visited in the world and in South Africa?
The most memorable is the Amazon jungle. My favourite international city would be Instanbul, closely followed by New York.
In South Africa, I am crazy about Mpumalanga and Limpopo, with its thorn-veld and Pierneef-coloured cliffs. Cape Town is by far my favourite South African city!
I have been blessed to have travelled a great deal in my life, often with great travelling companions. But the trip that stands out most, and grew me as a person, was a month solo back-packing in Colombia, where I spent 10 days on the banks of the Amazon at the Amacayacu National Park, drifting around the bougain-villea-drenched Caribbean town of Cartagena, and travelling up the Cordillera Central on horseback to see ancient Mayan ruins. Unforgettable.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That people everywhere have a great capacity for selfishness, destruction and little respect for the planet but, by the same token, are equally capable of astounding one with acts of kindness, compassion and creation of beauty. We are complex, contradictory creatures. I have a love-hate relationship with humans. But what an astounding world we live in.
Ideal travelling companion?
I love travelling with my partner, Greg King, who shares so many of my interests and sensibilities – and sense of humour; and my best friend, Amanda Cairns, who I travelled with to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Namibia and France. However (and I hope they don’t hate me for saying this), I really like travelling on my own.
Some people hate restaurants and hotels on their own. I really enjoy it. You find out who you are when you’re not trying to please others.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I’m definitely not an adrenalin junkie. I have no interest in going bungee jumping or paragliding. I love art and music, and will spend a lot of time and money going to the opera, theatre and in galleries and museums.
I adore the beach too, often walking long distances to find the most remote and splendidly private coves and stretches of white sand. Some of my favourite beaches include Cape Vidal (KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast), Cabo de Gata in Andalucia (Spain), Kardamyli (Greece) and Cabo de la Vela in the La Guajira Desert (Colombia).
Greatest travel luxury?
Flying first class – I never have and long to! When I board a plane on a long-haul flight and have to pass the steps up to the well-lit bar with its glasses of champagne, I get grumpy at having to shuffle off to cattle class.
I tend not to read that much on holiday; well, not anything taxing or intellectual. Plane and train reading is Terry Pratchett or some similar lightweight but witty writer. Beach reading is usually something a bit more challenging. I don’t really do pulp or crime. I spend a lot of my time reading the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.
Where has seduced you?
Cape Town, fickle Cape Town. She is like a capricious mistress: you can fall blissfully and deeply in love with her in the hot haze of summer, and then for no reason at all she suddenly turns on you and unleashes an icy squall of wet and wrath, and then just as you have decided to abandon her and move on, she seduces you all over again with a spray of spring flowers on a mountain, a shower of clear Atlantic-filtered light and the promise of warmth, and back you go!
Worst travel experience?
In Belize, Amanda and I were staying on Tobacco Key, a blissful ring of sand 15km out to sea. A huge storm was brewing and we had to be evacuated. The tiny outboard motorboat we were in was overloaded and the engine kept cutting out, leaving us drifting in heaving grey seas that two hours before had been postcard-perfect. We were tossed and pitched for over an hour and I thought we were going to die. I closed my eyes and recited every fragment of Shakespeare I could remember to distract me.
Fortunately, we did manage to get the engine working well enough to limp back to shore. Never been so happy to stand on a beach!
I am not a luxury hound, but have stayed in some lovely places over the years such as the comfortable Semiramis Hotel in Cairo and eccentric Le Mirage desert lodge & spa in Namibia; however, nothing beats the uniqueness, luxury, style, care and magic of the Singita Bush Lodge in the Kruger Park.
I have never experienced such hospitality anywhere. The suites are magnificent with sweeping vistas over the bush, utterly private and self-contained, with glass walls, a day bed on the private viewing deck, outside shower, indoor shower, and deep wallowing bath with bushveld views.
Your time is totally your own: if you wish to eat breakfast at 3pm and go on a game drive at 7pm, the staff will make it happen with a smile and sleight of hand. You never see the cleaning staff or the chefs.
Everything is carefully stage-managed so that while you are dining on a sumptuous three-course, candle-lit meal under the thorn trees next to the river, your suite is transformed by elves into an even more romantic and welcoming space.
We came back replete and so happy from dinner to find our bath run, steaming, strewn with rose petals and scented salts, ringed with lit lanterns, and a bottle of champagne on ice with two glasses on a little table, which also sported four huge, soft, folded towels.
Your meals are tailored individually to your personal taste and dietary requirement as is your wine list, which is drawn from a huge and superbly stocked cellar.
It’s no wonder that the likes of Brad and Angelina and Madonna stay there!
Best international theatre experience?
So many… but the best thing I have ever seen was Robert la Page’s The Dark Side of the Moon at the Barbican Centre in London.
This is closely followed by Warhorse at the National Theatre in London.
But nothing beats the spiritual thrill of seeing your first play in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus in Greece. It is an experience that will haunt me for ever, even though I could understand little of what was being said. The ritual and magnitude are magical.
Favourite walk, swim, ride or drive?
I love walking in the Berg. And swimming in its rivers and streams. My favourite drive is over Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town. I never get tired of the vistas, which are perennially breathtaking.
Best meal abroad?
In Istanbul, Turkey, Greg and I went to a restaurant, the Geritli, in a creaky old Ottoman house with a pretty walled garden, and ordered their banquet of 10 hot and cold mezes, octopus and fish. Wine was included in the price and flowed copiously. I have honestly never eaten so well… the food in Turkey is excellent!
Istanbul, though my visit was really too short to get to know the place intimately. Ditto with Florence and Venice.
I adore them, but don’t “know” them. Three or four days can’t reveal a place to a traveller.
I should rather say Athens, since I have been there on several trips and lived there for 18 months, and adore the city.
I know so many of its magical secrets and tucked-away delights that most tourists would never know.
We are so busy travelling with work, producing shows in Cape Town and Joburg, but would like to find the time to visit northern Namibia and the Caprivi Strip, and the Okavango Delta.
Also, there is Thailand beckoning…