The Royal National Theatre & Market Theatre Johannesburg production of “The Island”, which had an acclaimed season at the National in the Spring of 2000, has now returned to London at the Old Vic Theatre for a limited season. I missed the play in 2000 so was pleased to catch it this time round, and what an inspiring and poignant drama it is.
“The Island”, which premiered in 1973, was wrote by Athol Fugard and its two actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, the same two actors that starred in the play 28 years ago. It was written as a tribute to the men and women who were imprisoned for taking part in the fight for a free and democratic South Africa.
The play is set in the notorious Robbin Island prison where political prisoners were kept in harsh conditions. Winston and John have been sharing a cell for nearly 3 years. They survive the harsh conditions through a strong bond of friendship and by using fantasy games to escape the austere reality of their situation. However, when John is told he is to be released within 3 months, he is ecstatic but at the same time is cautious in case the officials are playing games with him to try and ‘make him mad’. Winston on the other hand becomes jealous and resentful at the thought of his friends reprieve.
John Kani and Winston Ntshona perform magnificently. They are particularly outstanding at the beginning of the play when they perform a mime of the prisoners' forced labour.
Within the play, the two prisoners act out a performance of Sophocles’ Antigone. King Creon is presented as a caricature of the apartheid state of South Africa, in which the official view is that ‘all’ the citizens are ‘happy and fat’ with their positions in society and that the law is there to protect them from ‘liberals’ and ‘terrorists’. Antigone, the sister who gives her ‘disgraced’ brother a decent burial, even through it is has been forbidden, is a fitting figure for the black South African, who against all the odds, seek to keep their dignity despite the vicious demands of a corrupt state.
The play has again been well received by the popular press....RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, “With the passing of apartheid, The Island remains powerful enough to stand as a generic drama of injustice.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD describes it as a “remarkable production”. And goes to say it has a “fierce emotional impact.” DOMINIC CAVENDISH for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Through its unadorned, bare-bones playing style, and the poignant rapport of its two stars...the production makes the prisoners' experiences seem vividly of-the-moment as well as universal in implication." THE DAILY MAIL says, " The quality of acting is unforced, seamless and unbearably moving."
Lasting 1 hour 30 minutes without an interval this is a passionate and uplifting drama of survival and certainly well worth seeing.
Links to full reviews from newspapers...