The Island can be defined as one of the few plays that helped to change the world. Its tour of America was crucial in bringing the Americans to impose sanctions on South Africa - and thus help to topple apartheid.
John Kani states about the beginnings of the play: "When you get in front of them, sure they'll laugh... Nyah! Nyah! they'll laugh. But just remember this, brother, nobody laughs forever! There'll come a time when they'll stop laughing, and that will be the time when our Antigone hits them with her words." The character John in The Island.
The world has changed very significantly since this play was first performed in 1973, when it was illegal for three playwrights to meet, let alone collaborate on a rebellious piece of literature. But through the creation of this brilliant two-hander' Athol Fugard' John Kani and Winston Ntshona brought to life a tale that took the world by storm and helped to persuade America to impose sanctions in South Africa.
Two prisoners on Robben Island - John and Winston - rehearse a performance of Sophocles' Antigone. John discovers he will shortly be released; Winston is a lifer. At the heart of this classic South African play is a meeting of hope and despair. Both The Island and Antigone provide a plea for the real and just law of the hear, in opposition to the false law of an iniquitous state.
The Island tells the story of two prisoners on Robben Island, John and Winston, who are rehearsing a performance of Sophocles' Antigone. When John learns his sentence is being reduced' the men's friendship is tested. The play explores the parallels between Antigone's fight against political and patriarchal boundaries and the imprisoned men's fight for dignity. The Island stands as a testament to the resiliency of the human heart' spirit and beliefs.
"What we discovered after creating Sizwe Bansi is Dead was that we couldn't have the text written down. This was because it would have been a document; it would have meant that the police would have evidence that could be presented to a district attorney, who might lay charges against us. So we kept continuing to improvise according to the interactions with and response from the audience. That way we used our life experience' structured it around a story, to take the audience on a journey through to the end of the evening. After Sizwe Bansi, we decided to explore the subject of Robben Island. To start off with, we put a blanket on the ground. We stood on it and began to move' with Athol watching. We began to halve the blanket' halve the blanket, until there was just enough space for four feet to stand. We realised the restriction of space' and there it was - confinement. And there it was - prison."
This landmark production will be directed by John Kani and will feature two acclaimed young actors as John and Winston: Kani's son, Atandwa Kani (who was last seen at The Market Theatre in The Miser) and Nat Ramabulana (last seen at The Market Theatre in The Girl in the Yellow Dress).
Winston is a dreamy idealist' desperate to make a success of their two-man production of Antigone and John is a more reluctant performer, who has an eye on his impending freedom.
Recent reruns of classic South African plays at The Market have proved that there is a huge audience for these plays - especially as interpreted by the new generation of theatre practitioners. The Island is just as resonant in today's South Africa as it was when it first appeared - as we are still doing battle in our contemporary democracy for freedom of expression, and how that might be at odds with the dignity of the state.
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