Tribute to Peter Gardner

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Well-known and respected actor and casting director, Peter Gardner, died in Durban on May 8, 2016, after a long and bravely fought battle with cancer.
Well-known and respected actor and casting director, Peter Gardner, died in Durban on May 8, 2016, after a long and bravely fought battle with cancer.

Well-known and respected actor and casting director, Peter Gardner, died in Durban on May 8, 2016, after a long and bravely fought battle with cancer.

He was married to well-known Durban theatre personality Caroline Smart and was a registered BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) service provider.

Gardner ran his own business, Troubadour Productions in Mayville, which handles costume hire and mascot costume manufacture.

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Born in Grahamstown and educated in New Zealand and Johannesburg, Gardner was an engineer, an accomplished cook and an ocean-going yacht master who had done the Cape to Rio Yacht Race twice. He started off in theatre as a member of various amateur dramatic societies, building sets and props and handling sound.

An actor capable of powerful emotions, he worked in stage, radio, film and television and acted alongside well-known names such as Oliver Reed, Trevor Howard, James Fox, Michael Dudikoff, Michael Ironside, Kristen Scott Thomas and Barbara Carrera.

“He bore a remarkable resemblance to movie actor Chuck Norris, which even astonished Chuck’s brother Aaron when he came to South Africa to work on a film!” remembers Caroline Smart.

Gardner appeared in numerous productions for Napac and, more recently, the Playhouse Company. These included Breaker Morant, Anthony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, Hamlet, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Romeo and Juliet, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof and War Cry. He also performed in the smash-hit Thriller at the now-defunct Langoustine Theatre by the Sea.

In 2013, he appeared in Duncan Buwalda’s Naledi-nominated play. Hinterland, when it was performed on the Arena programme of the National Arts Festival.

His engineering background allowed him to create costume/mascot characters efficiently as well as artistically. He created many cartoon and branding costumes such as the Liquorice Allsorts Man, the Jolly Jammer Man for Baumann’s Biscuits, three bears for Beare Brothers, Mr Lover Man and Nokia cellphones.

In addition to a large number of Liquorice Men, he made Plucky the Mynah, the mascot for the Natal Rugby Union (a costume with a head that carries a sound system so that the audience can hear him squawk and a fan to keep the wearer cool!), the Jolly Jammer Man for Baumann’s Biscuits and three sets of bears for Beare Brothers, Plumpy the Dinosaur and a turtle mascot for export to the Seychelles.

Among the numerous tributes received after his death are those from colleagues and friends in the arts world:

Gaynor Young (actress): I am picturing him standing in the foyer of the Sneddon, a drink in his hand and laughing Peter’s gorgeous laugh…

Anant Singh (film producer): I had the pleasure of knowing Peter for more than 30 years and worked with him on the casting of “The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma”; “Cry, the Beloved Country”; “The Res”; “Mr Bones 2” and many other films. I will always remember him as an unassuming, gentle human being with an infectious laugh, and one who was committed to his craft and the performing arts.

Tony Cox (Guitarist): He was a wonderful man and had me and Steve (Steve Newman) in stitches every time he laughed at one of our silly jokes.

Leeanda Reddy‎ (TV Actress): My very first television job came from an audition where he was the casting agent – he gave me great advice as I ventured into this new world. I remember, when performing on stage and – hearing a distinctive, characteristic laugh – feeling a sense of both excitement and nervousness that Mr Gardner was in the audience and hoping that we performed well enough to get a good review from him. He has been an inspiring, encouraging and dynamic presence in the arts industry and I am grateful to have known him.

Krijay Govender (TV Actress): How sad to have lost Peter Gardner. Every single actor that came out of Durban has a PG story to share.

Ismail Mahomed (Artistic Director, National Arts Festival): I will always cherish that special moment during my last visit to Durban when Peter rode all the way on his bike straight from a medical to say hello. Peter was such a gallant soldier. Over the last 18 months, he fought his battle with such enormous strength, courage and dignity. He took his battle with cancer and made lemonade from lemons. He offered laughter despite the pain and discomfort. To those of who watched his battles over the last 18 months he held up a mirror to us to reflect on strength, courage and humility.

Troubadour Productions is currently in a process of restructuring. The building is on the market and the costume hiring business is also for sale. Many old costumes that are not up to hiring quality but still have a value in terms of their material or braiding have been moved to bargain rails.

Troubadour is situated at 292 Jan Smuts Highway in Mayville, Durban. Operating hours are Monday to Friday from 09h00 to 17h00 and on Saturdays from 09h00 to 12h00. Contact Catherine or Doreen on 031 209 2817/8 or email csmart@iafrica.com or visit www.troubadour.co.za

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