Leila Henriques as Florence in the Market Theatre’s production of the same name at the Market Theatre. Picture: Greg Homann

Women’s Month at the Market Theatre will bring back to life Florence Alexandra, founder of the Johannesburg Art Gallery in a beautifully complex production.

The production is simply titled Florence - as Lady Phillips was popularly known. It will star Leila Henriques in a one-woman show that will be directed by Greg Homann. The production was penned by Myer Taub.

Dorothea Sarah Florence Alexandra, Lady Phillips (* ée Ortlepp; June 14, 1863 - August 23, 1940) was a South African art patroness and promoter of indigenous culture. She was married to Sir Lionel Phillips, first baronet, a mining magnate and politician, and was commonly known by her middle name.

The production aims to highlight the contributions and impact that Florence Phillips had in building a greater understanding of art with early Johannesburg and its contemporary society. 

It was her philanthropic nature which endeared her to the world of artists and the public alike. Florence was a woman of exceptional strength, passion, and character to have been able to promote and celebrate local and international artists and to persevere in building them a home at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG).

Leila Henriques as Florence in the Market Theatre’s production of the same name at the Market Theatre. Picture: Greg Homann

Playwright Taub playfully experiments with time, place, language, and form to explore our contemporary moment. The story follows a disgruntled actress that meets over lunch in a fancy restaurant with a playwright about the new work he has written that places Florence as a ghost at the Joubert Park fence outside the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

While considering whether she will play the role, the actress imagines what it would mean to portray a dead white colonial figure today whose legacy and value is both contested and forgotten.

The world-of-the-play moves across over 100 years of Johannesburg history revealing a city that captures a struggle for recognition, renewal, unrequited love, hope, and prosperity.

Speaking about the production’s colonial links, Homann said: “The politics of staging a play today that centres on the life of a white colonial figure is a complicated business, but that’s exactly what makes this play appealing to me - the playwright is not trying to place anyone on a pedestal, rather Taub is asking questions about what we value, how we think about history, and what we see as relevant or not.”

Leila Henriques as Florence in the Market Theatre’s production of the same name at the Market Theatre. Picture: Greg Homann

This dynamic trio of Taub, Homann and Henriques have been brought together by the artistic director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo, who has also brought in Johannesburg-based sculptor Richard Forbes to design the set for the production. 

Award-winning lighting designer Nomvula Molepo will light the show, with costumes by Karabo Legoabe and Nthabiseng Mokone, and sound design by Ntuthuko Mbuyazi.

Lady Phillips is believed to have started acquiring paintings with a view to eventually founding an art gallery, which, after many difficulties, took shape as the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). She played a leading role in projects aimed at cultivating and preserving the local artistic heritage.

Florence will run at the Market Theatre from August 3 until August 26. Visit: http://markettheatre.co.za/productions/florence/ for more details.

IOL