Theatre in South Africa
Did you know?
Tstotsi, the South African feature film awarded the Foreign Language Academy Award, was based on Athol Fugard’s lone novel. The film also won nine international awards, and is a turbulent story about a gangster who leaves terror in his wake, until a chance encounter brings about his redemption.
South Africa has a prolific theatre scene, with more than 100 active spaces around the country offering everything from indigenous drama, music, dance, cabaret and satire, to West End and Broadway hits, classical opera and ballet. South African theatre tends to be very interactive, with actors sometimes directly addressing audiences.
While the country has a long and rich history of story-telling, from the oral narratives and shamanistic dances of the San to the fables told around the fire by black groups, through to the modern and youthful productions of today, South African theatre came into its own during the apartheid years, partly due to the cultural boycott on South Africa by British and American actors. Without any external influences, South African theatre flourished with its own unique and local feel, particularly the protest theatre of the 70s and 80s.
However, the formal South African theatre tradition dates back as far back as the 1830s when Andrew Geddes Bains’ Kaatje Kekkelbek, or Life among the Hottentots, was performed in 1838 by the Grahamstown Amateur Company.
Over the years, names such as playwrights Athol Fugard and Gibson Kente would form the backbone of South African theatre. Through their plays, actors such as John Kani and Winston Ntshona, Mbongeni Ngema became a few of the early participants of a form of theatre that sought to challenge the apartheid system and question racial attitudes of the day.
With mainstream venues such as the National theatre barring black people from creative participation, the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and The Space in Cape Town were just two of many theatres established to give black artists a stage and multiracial audience.
Theatre venues were desegregated in 1978 and today there are more than 100 venues offering everything from indigenous drama, music, dance, cabaret and satire to West End and Broadway hits, classical opera and ballet.
Some of the more well-known venues include the Market Theatre, Johannesburg Theatre and Soweto Theatre in Johannesburg; the Baxter and Artscape theatres in Cape Town; and the Playhouse in Durban.
Many of the casinos and malls in South Africa are also home to theatres. The Montecasino Theatre and Studio has hosted major productions such as Dream Girls and Phantom of the Opera.
Add to that the multitude of festivals that take place across the country, the most well-known of which is the Grahamstown National Arts Festival – the largest festival of its kind in Africa. Over 33 years, the festival has showcased some of South Africa’s best performing arts talent including and up and coming artists. It has also spawned a multitude of similar festivals such as the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudshoorn and the Mangaung African Cultural Festival (Macufe) in Bloemfontein.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Computicket has outlets at shopping centres countrywide, or
tel: +27 83 915-8000 or book online at www.computicket.com.
How to get here
Most South African theatres are city- or town-based, and therefore easily accessible by road.
Best time to visit
Theatre is an entertainment mainstay all year long, but do check the local press for visiting shows or shows with great reviews.
Tours to do
Any reputable tour company will be able to advise on 'must-see' theatre shows in all the country's main cities.
Ttaxi cabs will be able to collect you and drop you at the theatre door.
What will it cost
Cost of shows differ from theatre complex to theatre complex, and sometimes are even free! Consult each theatre's website, or check with national ticket tout Computicket.
Length of stay
Bank on an evening, and throw in a dinner and post show cappucino too.
What to pack
A shawl, or jumper to cover your shoulders during showtime.
What to eat
Some of South Africa's theatre complexes come replete with restaurants and coffee shops offering meals and refreshments. At some, for instance the Barnyard chain, you can even bring your own pre-packed picnic basket.
Check out the annual festivals, especially the National Arts Festival held every winter in the picturesque Eastern Cape hamlet of Grahamstown.
Look out for the student productions at the acclaimed University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, these are oftentimes free to the public.