PLAYWRIGHTS: Athol Fugard, Wintston Ntshona, John Kani
DIRECTOR: John Kani
CAST: Atandwa Kani (as John), Nat Ramabulana (as Winston)
VENUE: Barney Simon at the Market Theatre
UNTIL: March 24
Protest Theatre was never theatre against the apartheid regime only, it was a movement against any form of injustice writes, director John Kani in his programme notes.
The Island goes even further than that because it explores and tests the friendship of two men who find themselves battling their demons and their desire for freedom.
Their only way of coping is to play in another world as they prepare for a performance of Antigone for the other inmates. It keeps their dreams alive and has them putting one step in front of another.
The harshness of their world filters through their stories as they talk about standing all the way from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town when being transported, not even allowed toilet breaks. “When we stopped at George, no one was dry.”
Or when describing themselves as prisoners including asides like being on Diet D, created by the regime of the time for different categories of prisoners according to their race.
But there’s always humour in the horror as the two men bound to one another as prisoners in more ways than one take turns to pull the other through the circumstances of each day.
It’s a brave choice for the cast. Not only are these two of our most promising young actors, Kani jr is stepping into his father’s shoes in a role that won Kani sr international recognition as writer and actor.
That’s what makes this such an extraordinary experience. One hears the family resemblance which makes sense when the son is speaking the father’s words. It makes it that much more poignant.
In the end, it is the story of two men who have to make sense of their lives and breathe life into what is an impossible and often improbable world. The way they do this is by turning to one another in the hope of finding strength from a brother in arms – until one is given the gift of freedom.
As Winston, Rambulana has arguably a tougher ask because it is a less flamboyant part and asks for a quieter performance which he is able to create. Kani, on the other hand, has to tread carefully not to slip into caricature because of the family resemblance.
But they pull it off – sometimes brilliantly. And with a few more performances under their belt, the lives and the language will sit even more comfortably and play at a pace that puts you at the centre of almost unbearable heartache, but also the celebration of the human spirit to fight to the end.