2013 South African Theatre Retrospectives: South African Revivals and Productions of International Plays
2014 will soon be upon us, so there is no better time to look back at some of the productions that appeared on stage in South Africa in 2013. This is the second in a series of four retrospective columns reflecting on the past year's theatre season, all of which feature comments from members of South Africa's theatre community. Today's column focuses on revivals of classic South African plays and local productions the work of international playwrights, with the first having taken a look at original South African theatre. The final three columns will deal with comedy, variety and storytelling; musical theatre, opera and cabaret; and dance and physical theatre.
Revivals of classic protest theatre plays, notably Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona's THE ISLAND, Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema's WOZA ALBERT! and Ngema's ASINAMALI were also seen, in Johannesburg under the banner of the Market Theatre as well as at the National Arts Festival.
Directed by Kani, one of its original creators, THE ISLAND tells the story of two men imprisoned on Robben Island. AS they rehearse for a performance of Sophocles' ANTIGONE, parallels are drawn between the politics and patriarchal government of apartheid South Africa and those of the play. The production starred Atandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana.
WOZA ALBERT! is an iconic South African play that ponders what might have happened had Jesus Christ returned to South Africa during the apartheid era. The play is one of the prescribed texts in the national Dramatic Arts curriculum and seeing the play live was a highlight for high school pupil, Kirsten Jacobs, who was one of the heads of the Culture Club at Springfield Convent Senior School. She said: 'The extreme physicality of the actors who brought the story to life blew me away. A simple prop such as a box transformed into a bench, a meat vendor's cart, drums and train seats. The actors effectively portrayed humour in their actions, effortlessly making the audience laugh with every movement.' Directed by Prince Lamla, the play was brought to life by Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu and Peter Mashigo.
Lamla also directed ASINAMALI, which explores the lives of five black prisoners who meet one another in prison. Taking its inspiration from the rent strike in 1983 Lamontville township rent strike, the title of the play can be translated as "We have no money!"
Another classic that was revived, in Cape Town at the Fugard Theatre, was Fugard's "MASTER HAROLD"... AND THE BOYS, which takes a look at the relationship between a young white boy (played by Alex Middlebrook) and a black man (Tshamano Sebe), who has become something of a father figure to him and how the destructive force of apartheid ripped apart even the most personal interracial relationships. The production was directed by Kim Kerfoot.
Another major revival was that of SADAKO, which used puppetry to bring to life the true story of a young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima only to contract leukaemia a decade later as a consequence of being exposed to radiation during the blast and its aftermath. Scripted by Peter Hayes and directed by Jacqueline Dommisse, the play featured puppets designed by Janni Younge. Lauren de Bruyn, one of the heads of Springfield Convent Senior School's Culture Club, enjoyed seeing 'something different from the usual Western stories'. She continues: 'SADAKO was one of the best shows that I saw this year. The use of puppets was unusual but powerful and evoked so much emotion. It was nice to go to a show that focused on a unique culture.'
Revivals of more recent plays were also seen. One of these, Nicholas Spagnoletti's LONDON ROAD, was hailed as a contemporary classic in its original production a couple of years ago and continued to win over the hearts of audiences as it returned to South African and international stages this year. Robyn Scott and Ntombi Makhutshi recreated their roles and Lara Bye's original staging.