South Africa

By: Brent Meersman  11-11-2011

Photo: Guy de Lancey

Director Peter Hall recalled that when Samuel Beckett’s

Waiting for Godot

opened in London it was greeted with derision and incomprehension by the critics. The story at least goes that critic Harold Hobson left the auditorium, but was persuaded to go back inside and trust the experience. Hobson then wrote a panegyric, and Beckett mania gripped London. Across the Atlantic, Brooks Atkinson wrote of Godot: ‘Theatregoers can rail at it, but they cannot ignore it. For Mr. Beckett is a valid writer’. The legendary critic Kenneth Tynan, required a few weeks to understand the work, but soon concluded: the play ‘forced me to re-examine the rules which had hitherto governed the drama; and having done so, to pronounce them not elastic enough.’ Beckett of course went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Well-known South African author Damon Galgut will direct Beckett’s landmark play with a dream team cast: David Isaacs as Estragon; Oscar Petersen as Vladimir; Martin le Maitre as
Pozzo; Graham Weir as Lucky.

Galgut, who has over the years steeped himself in Beckett’s oeuvre, says that the writer “makes complete sense to me, and the intellectual theorising that goes on around his work often leaves me perplexed”.

According to Galgut, Beckett is “a writer who gave embodiment to his internal psychic landscape, which is why he is so insistent that the nature and texture of his work should not be changed in the staging. It’s a wish I’m happy to respect, because inside those parameters quite a latitude of interpretation is still possible.

As director, Galgut intends to, play up “the broader elements of characterisation – the slapstick, the comic patter between the characters, the timing – as well as the anguish of the aimless waiting. It’s called a tragicomedy, so the two poles should both be present, the despair as well as the humour. Beckett is very funny when he’s played seriously.”

Galgut notes that one of the earliest productions was in a prison in the United States – “the physical aspects of the play – the broken-down bodies, the endless state of waiting – were immediately intelligible to the audience. For obvious reasons, I guess. But the same applies to almost any audience. We’re all waiting for Godot, whether we know it or not.”

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London newspapers carried the story, with the Guardian running the headline: “All-black South African acting company evicted from theatre”, and the District Six Museum offering the performers temporary use of their Homecoming Centre. The repertory company’s sole underwriter, Abraham, who likes to take the opportunities his patronage affords him to trumpet his activism in the 1970s, suddenly found himself on the receiving end of protest action.


Articles on SA Theatre

Also in terms of the Afrikaans festival calendar, the week before is the InniBos festival in Nelspruit and then the week after it’s the Volksblad-Kunstefees in Bloemfotnein which is a fantastic festival because you only perform in theatres.However, for many Afrikaans Grahamstown is still the festival to be.


Continental Europe

Dr Fischer’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Marcelinus Swartbooi, Josef van der Westhuizen, Chris Nekongo, Avril Nuuyoma. Survival of the Fittest (Marcus Omofuma Nigerian by Ken Paul Chukwunonye. The Age of Enlightenment - Angelo Soliman (Lamin Jammeh. Ready Mades / Found Objects.


London & West End

It is simply absurd to perform Chekhov in English with Russian accents; as absurd is it would be to try and imagine what kind of accent Julius Cesar or Oedipus would have attempting to pronounce modern English. If a character has an accent that belongs to their native language, and they are speaking in their native language – the Queen speaking English, GW Bush struggling along in American – that’s all very well.



Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was unapologetic about her infamous speech at Munsieville outside Johannesburg in 1986: “Together hand in hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.. Only Winnie, played by Chantelle Grant, who has a remarkable resemblance to the young Winnie Mandela, and her father, Columbus are solo parts; the other rolls are covered by chorus members.


World Theatre

South African artists have certainly made good at Edinburgh this year following in the footsteps of a history of quality productions at the festival by stalwart theatre practitioners such as Andrew Buckland, Mbongeni Ngema, David Kramer, Greg Coetzee, Paul Slabolepszy, Pieter-Dirk Uys and Nicholas Ellenbogen.