devised by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona.
Young Vic (The Clare) 66 The Cut Waterloo SE1 8LZ To 30 November 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.45pm
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922 sold out; Day Tickets only.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 November.
Drama built round one classic shows it is of comparable stature.
Ever since it came as one of three pieces by Athol Fugard, two of them devised with John Kani and Winston Ntshona, to London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973, The Island has grown in prominence. Its depiction of life in a forced labour camp starts with a long near-silent work scene where two prisoners shift piles of white sand from one side of a platform to the other then back – work physically hard and crushing in its pointlessness.
It’s an endurance test for the actors, and a shock for audiences. As didn’t need saying then, the island is Robben Island, apartheid South Africa’s punishment block for dissidents, most famously the later President Nelson Mandela.
In view of which, the play becomes prophetic. The human spirit revives as the prisoners plan their adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek Tragedy Antigone, its story about someone willing to defy the state and die for her principles evidently connected to the Island. And, in creating the amateur performance under harsh conditions the men display a human spirit surviving an environment designed to snuff it out.
Mandela’s later search for truth and reconciliation might have grown straight from Sophocles and these prisoners’ work on his play. It’s a tough, but gripping experience, yet Alex Brown’s production under white lights, which light-up over us as the play-within-the-play is finally presented, brings out a comic strain as the more enthusiastic of the pair alternately encourages and becomes frustrated by his less committed companion.
They are called Winston and John; so were two of the play’s creators, a chauffeur and gardener. At least that’s what the bureaucracy said. Black South Africans couldn’t be actors, so Ntshona and Kani had to be registered as Fugard’s servants.
The original actors weren’t, of course, devised a realistic, rather than autobiographical, play. But their personalities are written into the script, and their personalities are stamped upon the play’s time and place, as Jimmy Akingbola’s occasionally uncomprehending Winston and Daniel Poyser’s earnest John, developing from anonymous prisoners to individuals who finally find dignity shuffling side-by-side in chains, establish the play’s classic stature for a new generation.
Winston: Jimmy Akingbola.
John: Daniel Poyser.
Director: Alex Brown.
Designer: Holly Pigott.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: George Dennis.
Movement: Diane Alison-Mitchell.
Voice: Zabarjad Salam.
Associate sound: Max Pappenheim.