"The Island" by Athol Fugard

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  • Topic: Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona
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The Island (1973) Athol Fugard

A Quick Rundown of The Island

-The Island is a Fugard play that resorts to the Classics to protest Apartheid. -It takes place in four scenes, opening with a lengthy mimed sequence in which John and Winston, two cell mates in prison on Robben Island, carry out one of the totally pointless and exhausting tasks designed by warders to break the spirit of political prisoners. -Winston has been sentenced to prison for life because he burned his passbook in front of a police station. -John has been imprisoned for belonging to a banned organization. -The story traces the relationship of these two men. Winston is the active rebel, -and John, the intellectual, is trying to persuade him to play Antigone in a condensed -two-character version of Sophocles’ play.

-It is to be a prison “concert” for their fellow prisoners and the guards. -However, Winston rebels at playing Antigone. He doesn’t want the other prisoners to laugh at him for being dressed as a woman, wearing a mop for a wig, false “titties,” and a necklace made of salvaged nails. He protests, “I’m a man, not a bloody woman ... Shit man, you want me to go out there tomorrow night and make a bloody fool of myself?” (p. 208). -John finally convinces him to cooperate by putting the dress on himself and saying, “… behind all this rubbish is me, and you know it’s me. You think those bastards out there won’t know it’s you? Yes, they’ll laugh. But who cares about that as long as they laugh in the beginning and listen at the end. That’s all we want them to do … listen at the end!” (p. 210). -Then John is taken to the office of the head warden and told that his appeal against his sentence has been granted. His ten-year term has been reduced to three years. In three months, he will be free. -But Winston is now facing a bleak future without the friend whose imagination has helped to keep him sane. -In the final scene, as the two present their version of Antigone, -Antigone/Winston tells the legendary king of Thebes, Creon, and the audience: -“You are only a man, Creon. Even as there are laws made by men, so too there are others that come from God. He watches my soul for a transgression even as your spies hide in the bush at night to see who is transgressing your laws. Guilty against God I will not be for any man on this earth...But if I had let my mother’s son, a Son of the Land, lie there as food for the carrion fly, Hodoshe, my soul would never have known peace.” (p. 226) -“A Son of the Land” (Nyana wa Sizwe) is Winston’s battle cry that articulates his identity. -At the end of the “concert,” John and Winston then take off their costumes -and “strike” the set.

-They are again put in handcuffs and ankle chains and begin running in tandem as the siren wails.

1. Introduction

- New genre: drama
-Play about political statements
-Two-person play
-Greater interaction between audience and actor
-Takes places over six days
-Slice of life” theatre

2. Sociopolitical Context
- part of three plays called statement plays (against Apartheid legislation): 1. Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (political response, young man forced to break the law to survive)
2. The Island (direct response to banning of ANC and other opposition voices) 3. Statement After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act (against Immorality Act  banning of relationships across racial boundaries - 1950s: dynamic creativity, art, drama, poetry, etc. Also political activism of overt nature. People burnt their passes. Women marched on parliament. In Johannesburg: in Sophiatown, mixed race ghettoes associated with a group of writers, the “drum generation” - 1960s: “Decade of Silence.” Politics and Sophiatown change drastically. Capture of Mandela and other political activists. Banning of ANC and PAC. Vision of “white areas” and a “white Johannesburg”  Sophiatown virtually destroyed, turned into white suburb “Triomf.” Political opposition only underground,...
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