Market Theatre

(Redirected from Laager Theatre)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Market Theatre is an "alternative" theatre space created by writer/director Barney Simon and producer/administrator Mannie Manim in 1976. It has long been termed South Africa's unofficial "National Theatre" because of its pivotal role in the cultural politics of the Struggle years (1976-1994). The Market Theatre is administered by the Market Theatre Foundation.

The Market Theatre Building

The Old Indian Market

The old produce market on the corner of Bree Street (now Lilian Ngoyi Street) and Wolhuter Street (now Margaret Mcingana Street) in Johannesburg, also known as the "Old Indian Market" or the "Newtown Market" (which had been opened in 1913), had finally closed after 60 years of trade and had been relocated to another part of the city.

The Company (an independent company committed to non-racial theatre, led by writer/director Barney Simon and producer/administrator Mannie Manim), was looking for a home base for their own work. They put in a bid, along with many other individuals and companies (including Schalk Jacobsz, Des and Dawn Lindbergh) for the building. The Company eventually won the tender in April 1975.


The building was converted and turned into a complex by Ozz Construction, from architectural designs by Rodney Grosskopff. It initially consisted of two stages, the Market Main Theatre (the circular old sales hall) and what was to be called Upstairs Theatre, and two galleries - one for graphic arts, one for photographs. Later the Laager was opened. Both the conversion and the subsequent running of the complex were funded entirely by donations from the private sector.

The Market Theatre became the ‘home’ of The Company and on the 4th of January 1976, Pleasure and Repentance, a fund-raising production was staged in a back room of the unfinished theatre. The presentation, directed by Barney Simon, consisted of a compilation of readings by well-known performers such as Janet Suzman, Michael McCabe and Ron Smerczak, with music by Keith Blundell. Danny Keogh was the stage manager for the production.

Opening in 1976

The Market Theatre was officially opened on October 19th 1976, operating as an independent, non-racial theatre during the country’s apartheid regime. It was named after the former enterprise on the site. Like the Space Theatre, The Market Theatre defied the Group Areas Act, which restricted theatres in "white" areas to whites only - both as audience and as actors. From the start the trustees of the Market Theatre Trust opened the stages and the auditoria to all who wished to come there, regardless of race. P.P.B. Breytenbach was a founder trustee. Honorary patrons were: Athol Fugard, Leon Gluckman, Nadine Gordimer, Sir Michael Redgrave & Janet Suzman. Lucille Gillwald played an instrumental role in the operation of the Market.

The Market Theatre quickly forged links with other alternative companies and theatres, such as the Space Theatre (from which it drew many of its ideas and artists) and the Baxter Theatre, exchanging productions with them. Besides productions by The Company, the venue also hosted the work of companies from the townships and elsewhere, some becoming regular performers there. These include the Earth Players and Bahumutsi Players. In this way it became the most prominent of the alternative political theatres by the end of the 1970s (see for example Graver and Kruger, 1989).

The theatre would also become a ‘Community Arts Centre’ with art exhibitions, photographic displays and training in aspects of theatre craft in its Market Theatre Gallery. The Market, its passages and especially its pub became a multiracial neutral area in the midst of Apartheid South Africa, while other artists and arts associations also moved into the area.

A 'National Theatre'

The Market Theatre developed into South Africa’s most renowned theatre space, unofficially considered the country’s “national theatre” in the 1980s and early 1990s. Gradually the precinct around it was also developed, so that by the late 1990s it included the Museum Africa exhibition rooms, Kippie's Jazz Club, the restaurants Gramadoelas and Kofifi, plus the Electric Workshop, where the 1997 Arts Biennale was held, the offices of the Film Resource Unit, the Dance Factory and the Bag Factory artists studios.

It was not until the 1990s, with the demise of the apartheid regime, that the Market Theatre would formally receive state funding. In 1990 the Market Theatre building was declared a national monument and in 1995 the theatre was awarded the prestigious Jujamcyn Award.

In 2013, a major revamp was undertaken, with capital funding from the Department of Arts and Culture, to enlarge capacity and make it more comfortable. However, because the building is a protected Heritage Site within Johannesburg's culturally important Newtown Precinct, the overhaul could not change any structural features.

Unfortunately, the city centre had also become depopulated and the Market Theatre a dangerious place, which affected attendance.

The Venues

There are three theatre venues at The Market Theatre:

Other spaces in the venue over the years have included:


Artistic directors have included: Barney Simon (1976-1995), John Kani (1995-?), Malcolm Purkey (2005-2013), James Ngcobo (2013-2022)

Mannie Manim resigned in March 1991, leaving to head the Wits Theatre and run his own company Mannie Manim Productions.

In 2023, the Senior Management team at the Market Theatre was: Greg Homann (Artistic Director), Tshiamo Mokgadi (Chief Executive Officer), Zingisa Jemsana (Chief Operating Officer) and Mlungisi Mkhayiphe (Chief Financial Officer).

The Market Theatre Foundation

The Market Theatre Foundation was formed in 1975 to raise funds for the conversion and maintenance of the building and to administer the complex.

For more information, see Market Theatre Foundation.

The Company at the Market Theatre

This is the name of the producing body (formed by Barney Simon, Mannie Manim and a small group of actors in Johannesburg in the early 1970s) and that was resident at the Market Theatre from its opening in 1976.

For more information, see The Company.

Market Theatre Youth Company

Productions at the Market Theatre

Productions by and from the Market Theatre have raked in awards all over the world, including Tony Awards, Laurence Olivier Awards.

The Theatre Upstairs/Upstairs at the Market/The Barney Simon Theatre

This venue is a smaller space in the Market Theatre building, used for more intimate plays and performances. It opened on 21 June 1976. It has also been referred to as Opstêrs by die Markteater in Afrikaans by the ever controversial Schalk Jacobsz, who performed there a number of times.

1976: Opening production - Barney Simon’s production of Chekhov’s The Seagull starring Erica Rogers, Vanessa Cooke, Sandra Prinsloo, Bill Brewer, Marius Weyers, Danny Keogh, Lindsay Reardon and Bess Finney; Barney Simon's production of The Crucible; Fugard’s The Blood Knot, directed by Benjy Francis and starring Francis and Fats Bookholane; Francis also directed Waiting for Godot with an all black cast; One Friday in Jerusalem, directed by Garalt MacLiam; Pieter-Dirk UysGod’s Forgotten, co-starring Christine Basson, Magda Beukes and Lynne Maree

1977: In association with The Company the Academy Theatre staged Murray Schisgal’s Broadway comedy Luv, directed by Barney Simon with Wilson Dunster, Janice Honeyman and James White; Robert Kirby’s How Now, Sacred Cow?

1978: An Afrikaans translation of Equus directed by Mario Schiess; Paradise is Closing Down directed by its author Pieter-Dirk Uys; Adam Small’s first play in English, The Orange Earth, directed by Jo Dunstan; Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, directed by Malcolm Purkey and starring Vanessa Cooke, Nicholas Ellenbogen and William Kentridge

1979: Barney Simon directed Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life starring Vanessa Cooke, Marcel van Heerden, Danny Keogh, Lesley Nott, Barrie Shah, Thoko Ntshinga, Bo Petersen, Sam Williams and Robin Smith for The Company at Upstairs; Donald Howarth directed his own play Ibchek starring Annabel Linder, Jacqui Singer, Frantz Dobrowsky, Danny Keogh and Elaine Proctor

1980: Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, directed by Ross Devenish, starring Marius Weyers, Shelagh Holliday and Bill Curry; Janice Honeyman’s production of An Arabian Night

1981: Die Bywoners produced the first translation of the Fugard play Hello and Goodbye called Hallo en Koebaai, directed by Jan Engelen and starring Schalk Jacobsz and Elna Potgieter; Pieter-Dirk UysKarnaval, directed by Dawie Malan and starred Magda Beukes, Lida Botha, Dale Cutts and Joey de Koker; The Glass Menagerie, directed by Lucille Gillwald and starring Shelagh Holliday and Lesley Nott

1982: Paul Slabolepszy’s Saturday Night at the Palace starring Slabolepszy, Bill Flynn and Fats Dibeko, directed by Bobby Heaney; Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley's Folly starring Dorothy Ann Gould and Anthony Fridjhon, directed by Bobby Heaney

1983: Bobby Heaney directed Edna O’Brien’s Virginia starring Sandra Duncan, Robert Whitehead and Yvonne Banning (February); Janice Honeyman directed Danny Keogh and Vanessa Cooke in This is for Keeps (August); Sweeney Todd, adapted and directed by Robert Whitehead starring Richard Haines and Grethe Fox (August); Janice Honeyman’s production, Forbidden Fruits, starring Vanessa Cooke, Jeremy Crutchley, Mike Huff, Danny Keogh, Amanda Strydom and Annelisa Weiland

1984: The Company presented Barney Simon’s Black Dog Inj'emnyama before going to the Edinburgh Festival.

1985: Deon Opperman’s Môre is ‘n Lang Dag (January); Christo Leech’s Die Spinner was the late night show at this stage; Robin Levetan’s Skyf starring Sean Taylor originated at the Baxter Theatre before playing here (May); Barney Simon, in collaboration with his cast which included Fiona Ramsay, Vanessa Cooke, Timmy Kwebulana, Gcina Mhlophe, Terry Norton, Thoko Ntshinga and Neil McCarthy wrote Born in the RSA which opened here in August 1985 before moving to the main theatre.

1986: In collaboration with Malcolm Purkey’s Junction Avenue Theatre Company The Company presented Sophiatown starring Minky Schlesinger (February); Robert Kirby’s The Bijers Sunbird starring James Mthoba and Sean Taylor under Kirby’s direction (April); Reza de Wet’s Diepe Grond starring Dawid Minnaar, Susan Coetzer, Gys de Villiers and Doris Sihula under Lucille Gillwald’s direction; Robert Whitehead directed Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane starring Christine le Brocq, Anthony James, Kevin Smith and Danny Keogh (October); Steven Berkoff’s Greek, directed by Mavis Taylor; Keith Grenville’s Not About Heroes, for Volute Productions

1987: Esther van Ryswyk’s production of Hallo en Koebaai

1988: Andrew Buckland’s The Ugly Noo Noo; Sandra Duncan played the title role in William Luce’s Lillian

1989: Lanford Wilson’s Burn This

1990: Malcolm Purkey directed David Mamet’s Speed the Plow; Clare Stopford directed Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

1992: William Kentridge directed the Handspring Puppet Company in Woyzeck on the Highveld; James Whyle’s Hellhound; Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden

1993: Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena; Can Themba’s The Suit

1994: Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye

The Main Theatre/The John Kani Theatre

1976: Opened on 19 October with a production of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss (popularly known as Marat/Sade, directed by Barney Simon, starring Kenneth Hendel, Wilson Dunster and Sandra Prinsloo. This play sparked off the first of many controversies for which The Market Theatre became renowned over the years; Fatima Dike’s The Sacrifice of Kreli; the children’s matinee show The Adventures of a Merry Madcap, written and directed by Janice Honeyman; Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians, directed by Leonard Schach and starring Bill Brewer, Michael Howard, Danny Keogh, Richard Cox, Ian Hamilton, Robert Whitehead and Anthony James, designed by Anthony Farmer.

1977: PACT's revival of Journey's End, directed by Norman Coombes with Dale Cutts, Frantz Dobrowsky, Richard Haines, Michael McCabe, John Rogers and Norman himself; The Company presented Barney Simon’s revival of People Are Living There with Yvonne Bryceland, Wilson Dunster, Vanessa Cooke and Danny Keogh; The Company also staged The Me Nobody Knows, with music by Gary William Friedman and lyrics by Will Holt, directed by Benjy Francis, starring Leonie Hofmeyr, Leslie Mongezi, Nomsa Nene, Barrie Shah and Jonathan Taylor. John Kani and Winston Ntshona revived The Island with Alan Joseph as stage manager; Woody Allen’s Don't Drink the Water, directed by Brian Astbury; Brecht’s Mother Courage with Yvonne Bryceland and Aletta Bezuidenhout, directed by Barney Simon; Barney Simon directed an Afrikaans translation of The Women of Troy starring Aletta Bezuidenhout, Jana Cilliers, Grethe Fox, Sandra Prinsloo and Wilna Snyman; The Company staged Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, designed by Anthony Farmer and co-directed by John Hussey and Mannie Manim with Diane Appleby, Graham Armitage, Naomi Buch, Wilson Dunster, Kerry Jordan and Gay Lambert; Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club in December

1978: A revival of Long Day's Journey into Night with Joe Stewardson, Shelagh Holliday, Danny Keogh and Ron Smerczak; Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Relatively Speaking, directed by John Hussey and starring Hussey, Helen Jessop, Andre Hattingh and John Rogers; Sizwe Banzi is Dead, starring John Kani and Winston Ntshona; Woody Allen’s Play it Again, Sam; Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, directed by and starring Fugard, together with Shelagh Holliday and Marius Weyers

1979: Barney Simon’s production of Albee’s The Death of Bessie Smith starring Janet Suzman, John Kani and Winston Ntshona; Mannie Manim staged Larry Gelbart’s Sly Fox for The Company, directed by Pieter-Dirk Uys and starred Patrick Mynhardt, Graham Armitage and Peter J. Elliott; Ira Levin’s Veronica’s Room was staged by The Company; Janice Honeyman staged the pop-musical Holy Moses and All That Jazz; Barney Simon directed Vivian Solomons and Wilma Stockenström in Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act; Pieter-Dirk UysDie Van Aardes van Grootoor; Barney Simon directed Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life starring Vanessa Cooke, Marcel van Heerden, Danny Keogh, Lesley Nott, Barrie Shah, Thoko Ntshinga, Bo Petersen, Sam Williams and Robin Smith for The Company; The Company staged Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves starring Helen Jessop, Kenneth Baker, Richard Haines and Yvonne Banning, directed by Graham Armitage; Black Nativity directed by Pieter Scholtz and starring nineteen black artists as their Christmas production

1980: Roy Sargeant directed Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg for The Company, starring Danny Keogh and Sandy Dacombe; Malcolm Purkey directed Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, starring Ron Smerczak, Nicholas Ellenbogen and Michele Maxwell; Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Donald Howarth and starring John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Pieter-Dirk Uys; Janice Honeyman’s production of An Arabian Night; Elsa Joubert’s Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena, directed by Hilary Blecher for The Company with Nomsa Nene; Cape Town’s Roundabout Theatre Company production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, directed by Richard E. Grant and Mike O’Brien and starring Steven Berkoff, Henry Goodman, Fiona Ramsay and Ian Roberts

1981: In collaboration with the Baxter, Stephen Gray’s Cold Stone Jug, directed by Barney Simon; Arthur Kopit's Wings starring Shelagh Holliday; Cape Town’s Troupe Theatre Company brought their production of the Brecht-Weill Threepenny Opera starring Sean Taylor; Emlyn Williams brought his Charles Dickens production; Marico Moonshine and Mampoer, inspired by certain Bosman stories, directed by Janice Honeyman and Barney Simon; Janice Honeyman directed Ain’t We Got Fun; Taubie Kushlick staged From Taubie with Love starring Judy Page and Marloe Scott-Wilson

1982: Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser starring Michael Atkinson, Michael McCabe, Shelagh Holliday, Paddy Canavan, Lynne Maree and Simon Swindell, directed by Leonard Schach; Leonard Schach directed Shelagh Holliday, Lynne Maree and Eric Flynn in the staged version of Helene Hanff’s memoir, 84 Charing Cross Road; The Company staged Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce; Taubie Kushlick presented Joe Masiell in Joe Masiell Not at the Palace; Janice Honeyman staged Romeo and Juliet with Robert Whitehead and Vanessa Cooke; Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God starring Jean St. Clair and Michael Richard with direction by Philipa Ailion; Janice Honeyman directed And Green And Golden

1983: The Baxter presented Julian Mitchell’s Another Country starring Sean Taylor, Neil McCarthy, Jeremy Crutchley and John Carson, directed by Nikolas Simmonds with lighting design by Pip Marshall; Athol Fugard’s Master Harold … and the Boys starring John Kani, Ramolao Makhene and Duart Sylwain and directed by Fugard who was assisted by Suzanne Shepherd; Pieter-Dirk Uys staged Farce About Uys starring himself, Thoko Ntshinga and Chris Galloway

1984: Nomsa Nene starred in Marius Weyers’ production of the English version of Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena; Michael Atkinson starred in Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin’s Beecham which Leonard Schach directed for the Company of Four; Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca starring Yvonne Bryceland, Elize Cawood and Louis van Niekerk

1985: Bobby Heaney’s production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie starring Sandra Prinsloo and John Kani (originated at the Baxter); Woza Albert!; Barney Simon, in collaboration with his cast which included Fiona Ramsay, Vanessa Cooke, Timmy Kwebulana, Gcina Mhlophe, Terry Norton, Thoko Ntshinga and Neil McCarthy wrote Born in the RSA; Paul Slabolepszy’s double bill Under the Oaks and Over the Hill, directed by Slabolepszy and Frantz Dobrowsky; David Kramer's Jol; Hugh Whitemore’s Stevie, and Lucille Gillwald’s production of Sam Shephard’s True West

1986: Fugard’s The Island; Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Beyond the Rubicon; Paul Slabolepszy’s Making Like America starring Paul, Marius Weyers, Nicky Rebelo and Lida Meiring under Bobby Heaney’s direction; The Vusisizwe Players performed here under Phyllis Klotz’s direction in You Strike the Woman, You Strike the Rock starring Thobeka Maqutyana, Nomvula Qosha and Poppy Tsira before touring Europe and North America; Soyikwa presented Matsemela Manaka’s Vuka; Basil Rubin presented Herb Gardiner’s I’m not Rappaport in association with the Market

1987: Athol Fugard’s A Place with the Pigs; Saira Essa’s new play You Can't Stop the Revolution; Mbongeni Ngema’s musical Sarafina; Janet Suzman’s production of Othello

1988: David Kramer and Taliep Petersen’s musical District Six – The Musical; Janice Honeyman’s Amabali – It’s Storytime; John Kani directed Kessie Govender’s Kagoos; Barney Simon directed David Lan’s Flight

1989: Fred Abrahamse’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a Market-Baxter-Handspring Puppet Company collaboration); Janice Honeyman’s production of Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy; Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa!; Susan Pam’s Curl Up and Dye'; Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods

1990: Mbongeni Ngema’s musical Township Fever; Wendy Wasserman’s The Heidi Chronicles; Barney Simon’s Starbrites; Fiona Ramsay directed Christopher Durang’s Laughing Wild; Nicholas Ellenbogen’s pantomime A Nativity

1991: Andrew Buckland starred in The Ugly Noo Noo; Janice Honeyman’s production of William Nicholson’s Shadowlands

1992: Sarafina; Athol Fugard’s Playland; Taliep Petersen and David Kramer’s Fairyland

1993: John Ledwaba’s Jozi Jozi Guide; Hilary Blecher’s production of Daughters of Nebo'; Steven Berkoff’s Decadence; Janice Honeyman’s pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk

1994: Sophiatown; Clare Stopford’s production of Scenes from an Execution; Paul Slabolepszy’s Pale Natives; Can Themba’s The Suit

1995: The Handspring Puppet Company created Faustus in Africa; Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead (May)

1996: Janet Suzman directed The Good Woman of Sharkville, adapted by Suzman and Gcina Mhlope (July)

The Laager/The Mannie Manim Theatre

A small space in the Market Theatre, that opened in 1978 with Pieter-Dirk Uys as artistic director of the theatre upon opening.

1978: Die Van Aardes van Grootoor by Pieter-Dirk Uys, directed by Dawie Malan and starring Uys, Magda Beukes, Johan Botha, Lida Botha, Antoinette Kellermann, Nomsa Nene and Rina Nienaber was the opening production in September 1978.

1979: Pieter-Dirk Uys's Info Scandals, directed by Dawie Malan; Mario Schiess translated (from Kafka’s German) and directed Report to the Academy starring Marius Weyers; Harvey Fierstein’s International Stud

1980: Israel Horowitz’s The Indian Wants the Bronx starring Bill Curry, Michael Richard and Jonathan Rands, directed by Bobby Heaney; Robert Kirby wrote, directed, and co-starred (with Terry Lester) in Separate Development; Pieter-Dirk Uys, Tessa Uys and Thoko Ntshinga starred in Uyscreams with Hot Chocolate Sauce

1981: Henry Rootenberg’s Zeyda, starring Nicholas Ellenbogen, Molly Seftel and Frantz Dobrowsky; Athol Fugard’s Nongogo with Thoko Ntshinga; Woza Albert! developed by Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa under Barney Simon’s direction

1982: Colin Higgins’ Harold and Maude starring Ruth Oppenheim and Jeremy Bonell, directed by Tammy Garner

1983: Janice Honeyman directed Danny Keogh and Vanessa Cooke in This is for Keeps(May, before playing at Upstairs in August); Stephen Gray’s Schreiner starring Elize Cawood, directed by Lucille Gillwald (August); Barney Simon’s production of Marsha Norman’s 'night, Mother starring Janice Honeyman and Julie Follansbee (September)

1984: Torch Song Trilogy

1985: Mbongeni Ngema’s Asinamali (directed by Ngema, May 1985 before going on a world tour and returning to the Market in December); Percy Mtwa wrote and directed Bopha (a Market and Earth Players; Saira Essa directed The Biko Inquest, created by John Blair and Norman Fenton

1986: Peter Se-Puma’s Hamba Dompas (directed by Nomsa Nene with the author and John Ledwaba (January); Gcina Mhlope’s Have You Seen Zandile? starring Gcina and Thembi Mtshali, directed by Maralin Vanrenen (February); Lucille Gillwald’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

1987: Mark Banks starred in We’re Not on Top...We’re Inside (January); James Mthoba’s Mehlondini

1989: Pieter-Dirk UysJust Like Home (opening production of the newly refurbished Laager)

1991: Andrew Buckland directed Soli Philander in Soli’s Take Two

1992: Paul Slabolepszy’s The Return of Elvis du Pisanie; Paul Slabolepszy’s Mooi Street Moves

1993: Jean Genet’s The Maids; Steven Berkoff’s Decadence

1994: Sue Pam-Grant and D.J. Grant’s Take the Floor

The Market Annex

2007: Heugh Road Blues by Phambili Ngcayisa, Patrick Majola, Luks Hlungula and Gift Buqa.

The Warehouse

1987: The opening production was Janice Honeyman’s Black and White Follies; Mara Louw and Bayete starred in Mayibuye iAfrica; Pieter-Dirk Uys presented Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the S.A. Bothatanic starring Chris Galloway, and in December of the same year Uys and Galloway joined forces again in Uys’ Cry Freemandela – The Movie.

1988: Andrew Buckland’s The Investigation of an Ugly Noo Noo; Sarafina

1990: Janice Honeyman directed Pieter-Dirk Uys in A Kiss on Your Koeksister; Patrick Mynhardt staged The Boy from Bethulie and Just Jerepigo; Baby Come Duze,

Market Theatre Café

Also known as the Market Café, this was a minute, eccentric and airless entertainment venue within the Market Theatre, which existed from 1 August 1976 to 17 July 1978. The concept was for a café-theatre in the continental style and it epitomised much of what the Market Theatre was striving to be. Initially run by Dave Marks and Fran Marks, it officially opened on the first of August 1976 with Alan Kwela. Later Marks added a small recording studio to the venue under the label of Third Ear Music. Due to financial problems the Market Café was shut down on 17 July 1978.

Significant performances there include Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Adapt or Dye (1981) and Hennie Aucamp’s Afrikaans cabaret Met Permissie Gesê (1981).

Later it became Gramadoelas, an unpmarket restaurant run by Eduan Naude.

The Market Theatre Laboratory

Also known as The Lab or the Market Theatre Lab, the Market Theatre Laboratory is a theatre training project and the educational arm of the Market Theatre, established in 1989. It is the home of the Market Theatre Laboratory Drama School/Ramolao Makhene Drama School, and also manages the National Fieldwork Programme, the Writing Programme, Fieldworkers Festival/Market Laboratory Community Theatre Festival and the Zwakala Festival.


Originally founded in 1989 by Barney Simon, John Kani (associate artistic director) and Vanessa Cooke (director) as a training facility for performer and community theatre practitioners. It was attached to the Market Theatre as its educational arm, as a response to the needs of the community theatre sector for high quality training, and to provide a seedbed for the creation of new South African plays. Deeply embedded in the ethos of the Laboratory is its commitment to providing opportunities to talented youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who would not otherwise be able to pursue their passion for the arts.

The Lab received funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, and substantial funding later from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through the Stockholms Statsteater. Mark Fleishman was the first administrator. Other administrators have been Tale Motsepe, Vanessa Cooke (?-2008), Motloung Motjamela (2008-2011), Dan Robbertse (2011-2013) and Clare Vaughn (2013-).

The Lab opened in October 1989 in a small warehouse under the highway in Goch Street (now Henry Nxumalo Street), Newtown, where professional tutors ran practical as well as theoretical courses for aspiring actors. The Lab quickly became a platform for young artists to meet and engage creatively and collaboratively, first in apartheid South Africa and later in the new democracy. Gradually the success of the Drama School led to other programmes initiated by the Laboratory, including the community theatre programmes which have resulted in the annual Community Theatre Festival and Zwakala Festival, which showcase performances from around the country and which have unearthed hidden theatrical talents.

The Lab employed “scouts” to work with community based drama groups and to help them develop their plays. The Lab also offered a programme to train township theatre groups. Once a year, these groups were invited to perform at the Zwakala Festival.

For a while, the Market Theatre Laboratory was based in The Bus Factory – 3 Helen Joseph Street (formerly President Street), Newtown. Since 2017, it has been based at Market Square, 138 Lilian Ngoyi St, Newtown. It has developed into one of the premiere training facilities of its kind in Southern Africa. It has trained exceptional performers and theatre-makers including Olive Schreiner Award winner Phillip Dikotla, three Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year winners, Monageng Motshabi (2016), Prince Lamla (2013), and Mncedisi Shabangu (2014), and SAFTA award winners Harriet Manamela, Warren Masemola and Lindiwe Ndlovu. In addition, the Lab has been recognised on multiple platforms for creating excellent theatre that engages with human rights issues.


Founded as an extension of the Market Theatre. It is also responsible for The Market Lab Annual Community Theatre Festival, a project intended to prepare and present the work of 50 community theatre groups and present a showcase of these in a semi-professional setting.

The Market Theatre Laboratory Drama School/Ramolao Makhene Drama School

The school offered an intensive practical two year course in basic theatre and performance skills for marginalised aspirant actors.

The school used professional theatre practitioners as tutors as they would impart not only the theoretical background but also give of their practical work experience. It soon became a platform for young artists to meet, interact, engage and discuss issues affecting the arts industry and creative processes.

In 2012, the school was renamed the Ramolao Makhene Drama School after the passing of the renowned actor, though the title does not seem to be used much. Their theatre, the Ramolao Makhene Theatre (seating 172), was also named after him.

The National Fieldwork Programme

This programme has worked with hundreds of community groups over the years and its success is evident in the annual Community Theatre Festivals and Zwakala Festivals.

The Writing Programme

With the assistance of Zakes Mda the lab started a writing workshop, which led to the development of a number of new South African plays.

The Barney Simon Residency Project

With the support of the Barney Simon Trust, the Market Theatre Laboratory also offers one residency a year to provide a space for theatre-makers to develop a new work, investigate artistic process, and take creative risks. The intention of this project, which provides a theatre-maker every year with funding; space; support and resources to develop a concept, is to support the development of new work, investigate artistic process, and take creative risks.


Fieldworkers Festival/Market Laboratory Community Theatre Festival

Starting out as a project initiated Tale Motsepe, it was intially called the Fieldworkers Festival, the name later changed to the Community Theatre Festival or the Market Lab Annual Community Theatre Festival.

The project is intended to prepare and present the work of 50 community theatre groups and present a showcase of these in a semi-professional setting and soon became an annual event with groups coming from all the provinces.

The Zwakala Festival

The Zwakala Festival is a festival of new writing which was founded by the Market Lab in 1991.

The Zwakala Festival is a festival of new writing which was founded by the Market Lab in 1991.

The aim was an annual festival to showcase the top productions from the annual Community Theatre Festival and choose the ultimate winner, with an opportunity to perform in the Barney Simon Theatre.

In 2013, with the appointment of James Ngcobo as the Market Theatre's artistic director, the festival was gradually revamped, seeking to actively develop, nurture and promote new writing talent, and to act as a platform for connecting communities and artists. As part of this mentorship initiative, the artistic director began to appoint a resident director for each specific festival to help with fieldwork, identifying the eight productions that will be mentored as part the first phase of the festival. After that process the director will work with the judges to help find the winner for the year and then the Resident Director is expected to work with the winning director to prepare the production for a run at the Market Theatre.

The Resident Festival Director appointed for the 27th Zwakala Festival in 2020 is Zimkitha Kumbaca.

Sources News - 22 November 2019 11:00

The Theatre Think Tank

Founded in 2021 and funded by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), the Theatre Think Tank project is intended to serve as an exploration and reflection on the wealth of knowledge enacted, embodied and performed by practitioners in the arts and culture field, specifically with the intention of gathering and organising this knowledge in a way that draws on the knowledge of local communities, and makes this accessible to the greater community.



Pat Schwartz. 1988. The Best of Company. The Story of Johannesburg's Market Theatre. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.

Percy Tucker 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Loren Kruger. 1999. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910 London: Routledge.

Feature written by Helen Grange, The Star, 20 September 2001.

Creative Feel, 20 June 2016.

'A monument to theatrical excellence', The Star Late Edition, 27 February 2017.

Andile Xaba. 2021. 'Collective memory and the construction of a historical narrative, analysis and interpretation of selected Soweto-based community plays (1984–1994)'. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

Return to

Return to South_African_Films

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays

Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays

Return to PLAYS III: Collections

Return to PLAYS IV: Pageants and public performances

Return to South African Festivals and Competitions

Return to South African Radio Plays and Serials

Return to South African Television Plays and Series

Return to South_African_Venues,_Companies,_Societies,_etc

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page