Playwrights > Athol Fugard discussion

Peter Brook on Fugard


Iain Fisher:
An interesting article from The Independent on Sunday, 18 Mar 2007. Peter Brook talks about directing Sizwe Bansi.  Fugard previously acted in Brook's film "Meetings with Remarkable Men".

"[Peter Brook] is, moreover, engaging with the matter of passports, permits and ID cards because his latest production - coming from Paris to the Barbican Arts Centre in London in May - is a new staging of Sizwe Banzi is Dead. That is the groundbreaking 1972 play co-authored by Athol Fugard and the black South African actors Winston Ntshona and John Kani - then unknown, but now fĂȘted. It tells the story of an impoverished black migrant worker who, trapped by punitive Apartheid restrictions and a blotted passbook, learns to survive and beat the system. He ultimately gains a new, more hopeful lease of life by assuming a corpse's discarded I.D.

Though only a two-hander, Sizwe Banzi is a historically important work, for it started the wave of what came to called South African protest theatre...

Brook holds that, in touching on the pain involved in losing one's sense of identity, the play embraces "the question of 'Who am I?', the human, spiritual, philosophical question that goes back to Socrates and Pythagoras but," he underlines, "that question today for three-quarters of the world [comes down to] somebody saying, 'Show me you papers!' It's about papers... This character in Sizwe Banzi is exactly like someone who has come through Sangatte in a container," he states.

...Here today in the bistro, however, {Peter Brook is] not at all grandiose or remote. He is very sweet, twinkly and courteously asks questions rather than just holding forth. His sentences tend to head off on tangents, slightly losing the thread, but they aren't mystically abstruse. In fact, he displays a sense of humour about the mysticism. He recollects how, with would-be metaphysical resonance, he told one dervish, "In my house, I seem to hear sounds. I don't know where they come from," only for the wise man to look bewildered and suggest he should call in a builder. With Sizwe Banzi, he is also manifestly countering David Hare's rebuke by taking on a political drama, a period piece with topical resonances.

The play's remarkable humour and humane warmth, style and structure make it entertaining as well as educational. The first half is a satirical monologue, almost like stand-up, spoken by a spirited smalltime entrepreneur, called Styles, who lives in a poor black township, He recounts how he used to work at the shabbily racist Ford car factory, mimes and mimics numerous characters including his white bosses, and he tells how he changed his life by establishing his own photography studio from scratch. Next, the scene suddenly turns into a dialogue as the studio is visited by a simple soul who says he is called Sizwe Banzi. He shyly hopes to have his portrait taken in a new suit, to celebrate making a positive stride forward in his life, and Styles encourages him to play out his dreams. Then we cut back in time. The actor playing Styles morphs into a different canny and supportive local called Buntu, and we see how he has also helped Sizwe - whose real name is Robert - to take courage and forge a new personality with better prospects. The theatrical trick of doubling roles becomes a joyous analogy for everyone's capacity to reinvent themselves."



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