The Royal National Theatre and the Market Theatre of Johannesburg will join beleaguered theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky in presenting Athol Fugard's The Island in Toronto beginning May 1, 2001.
The Island will be staged at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto. Set in South Africa on the notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other black political prisoners were incarcerated, the story explores an isolation "so total, the security so tight, that the only news that got through was whispered from mouth to ear, or scribbled on tiny scraps of paper."
A first of its kind collaboration between an interracial team of authors, The Island was written in secrecy in the early '70s during the Apartheid era. A draft of the play (then titled Die Hodoshe Span) was first presented in Cape Town on July 2, 1973, and was directed by Fugard. On Dec. 12, 1973, the play premiered in London at the Royal Court along with Fugard's Sizwe Bansi Is Dead. A West End transfer followed, with a subsequent Broadway run that started on Nov. 13,1974. That production earned 1975 Tony Awards for Best Actor for both John Kani and Winston Ntshona.
An Australian production opened March 31, 1976, again together with Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, at the Seymour Centre's York Theatre in New South Wales.
In October 1999, the play was revived at the Brook's Bouffes du Nord in Paris and later ran at the Stockholm Stadsteater. These stagings were followed on Jan. 24, 2000, with a four-week sold out engagement at the Royal National Theatre. The Island will return there in 2002 after its Toronto run. Playwright Athol Fugard's other credits include Blood Knot, Boesman and Lena, Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, A Lesson from Aloes, Master Harold and the Boys, The Road to Mecca, A Place with the Pigs, My Children! My Africa!, Playland, Valley Song, and Captain Tiger.
A managing trustee of the Market Theatre, actor, director and playwright John Kani is also the founder-director of the Market Theatre Laboratory and the chairman of the National Arts Council of South Africa. He has worked with Athol Fugard since 1965 and co-wrote both Sizwe Bondi Is Dead and The Island.
Winston Ntshona co-founded the Serpent Players with Fugard and Kani and has appeared in more than 20 productions including Sizwe Bondi Is Dead, The Death of Bessie Smith, Waiting for Godot, and Kagoos and Phaedra.
The original lighting designer for The Island, Manny Manim will once again contribute his award-winning skills to the play's creative team.
Additional details on the production are expected soon.
-- By Murdoch McBride