Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s ‘The Island’, a workshop play based on Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’, was first performed in South Africa in 1973. Speaking of its 1999 revival with the original performers, Peter Brook said: “What is extraordinary... is that the performers are not playing for themselves. They really are the spokesmen for their nation.” This article engages with the 1973-1975 production and 1995-2003 revival of ‘The Island’ in South Africa, Europe and the United States of America, to discuss the production’s polyvalent meaning in the different contexts in which it was (and continues to be) performed. Did the significance of the production’s revival lie in its importance as a metaphor for the freedom struggle? Thirty years after it opened, can it still, to use Fugard’s phrase, “bear witness”? Why did it achieve international resonance to become, no longer only a protest play for and about “their nation” but, to reviewers in Europe and America, “universal”, a “landmark of modern political theatre”, “part of world history”? The article contends that the person who became more and more associated with the play and the above questions was Nelson Mandela. His presence in ‘The Island’, formerly deliberately vague to avoid censorship, has recently been foregrounded. While the act of defiance “for the nation” that led to Mandela’s imprisonment was linked to Antigone's stand during apartheid, in South Africa ‘The Island’ and Robben Island have been incorporated into nation building discourse to reinforce the ways in which arts and heritage can be a focus for both remembering the past and for the transformation of society. In Europe and America, the play has been seen to “bear witness” to the plight of political prisoners, no longer in South Africa, but anywhere.
|Keywords:||Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona, The Island, Nelson Mandela, Robben Island, Apartheid, South Africa|
Head of Programme, School of Literary Studies, Media and Creative Arts, Faculty of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
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