Athol Fugard statement plays
With the three statement plays Fugard experimented with improvisation together with actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona and came up with some of his most powerful work. These plays directly attack the apartheid laws of South Africa at that time.
"These works avoid the pitfalls of didacticism, a real danger because of their subject matter (the "pass" law and the political prison on Robben Island, respectively) by transforming the real social ordeal of the doubly real people- the actors and their roles- into artistic and therefore meaningful structures" (African Literatures in the 20th Century, General Editor Leonard S. Klein).
Sizwe Bansi is Dead 1972
"Good. Let me just take your name down...What is your name? Your name please! Come on, my friend. You must surely have a name".
Sizwe Bansi (in the original title Sizwe Banzi) can only gain work and survive by taking on a dead mans identity. The play was based on improvisations by Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona who performed at The Space in Cape Town. Nina Shengold says: John Kani, playing the South African township photographer Styles, began the play with a tour-de-force 20-minute monologue. I don't think I moved from the moment he opened his mouth. He spoke straight to the audience, recounting his years as a toadying factory worker before he had scraped up enough money to open the tiny photographer's studio he called "a strong room of dreams" for his people. He described some of the dreamers he'd photographed. Then, without warning, he looked into the audience, into the front row, at me, and reached out his hand, inviting me onto the stage for a closer look. Ears burning with shyness, I shook my head. I didn't deserve to be on the same stage with this actor. I was a phoney, a high school fake. Kani beckoned again, "Come. Take a look." The middle-aged man next to me whispered, "Go on." And somehow, I did. I took hold of Kani's hand, clambered over the footlights and floated across the stage in a humming fog of excitement. I don't remember any of the photographs he showed me, but I'll never forget Kani's face, the burn of his eyes and the sweat on his skin as he begged me to look. The play was rated number 59 on the Royal National Theatre's most significant plays of the twentieth century, equal with Murder In the Cathedral by TS Eliot.
"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"
Two prisoners on Robben Island prison camp rehearse a performance of Antigone. One discovers he will shortly be released, the other is a lifer, so there is a meeting of hope and despair. The harshness of the camp is conveyed in long mime sequences. The relationship between the prisoners reminds me of the two brothers in Blood Knot. Another comparison is Jean Genet's Death Watch. The premiere was in the Space Theatre in Cape Town with Fugard directing Kani and Ntshona. The title was given as Die Hodoshe Span since any references to Robben Island prison camp would be unacceptable to the government. The play was revived in London in February 2000 with Kani and Ntshona and Fugard acting. It played to full houses in the Royal National Theatre with both actors demonstrating their towering acting abilities.
John Kani says (quoted in The Crossings Project): What we discovered after creating Sizwe Bansi was that we couldnt 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 and response with 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 Is Dead, 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.
Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act 1972
"If you're going to dream,
give yourself five rooms man"
Two lovers lie together and talk. The police enter and arrest them, as one is white the other coloured. They each are forced to give statements. Fugard directed himself and Yvonne Bryceland in the premiere in Cape Town in 1972. In London Fugard directed Ben Kingsley in his role.
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