Sophiatown

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Sophiatown is an improvised play with music by the Junction Avenue Theatre Company.

Also referred to as Sophiatown the Musical in some cases.

The original play

An influential workshop play about the famous freehold area in Johannesburg, it was devised by the cast under the guidance of director Malcolm Purkey and first performed the cast.

Based on a true prank in which Nat Nakasa and Lewis Nkosi had advertised in Drum magazine for a Jewish girl to come and stay with them in Sophiatown. The play deals with the “what if” of this situation, and setting it in a household representative of a spectrum of township dwellers, a microcosm of the Sophiatown milieu of the 1950s as seen from the perspective of the 1980s.

The original text

First published as a single text in 1994, then republished with other plays in 1995. Published by David Philip and also in At The Junction by Wits University Press. Also published as Sophiatown! in Drama for a New South Africa by Indiana University Press.

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1986: First performed at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg on 18 February 1986, a Junction Avenue Theatre Company production directed by Malcolm Purkey, with sets designed by Sarah Roberts and William Kentridge and poster by Kentridge, starring Ramolao Makhene, Arthur Molepo, Megan Kruskal and Minky Schlesinger. The play quickly transferred to the Grahamstown Festival and went on to a phenomenally successful run over the next number of years, winning numerous awards and touring internationally. Doreen Mazibuko also joined the production, as well as Gladys Mothlale and Madidi Maphoto. Siphiwe Khumalo.

1994: In a production at the Market Theatre Jakes was played by Patrick Shai, also starring Yael Farber, Ramolao Makhene and Arthur Molepo as Mingus.

1996: Rhodes University Drama Department production directed by Andrew Buckland, in May 1996, including Yael de Jong as Ruth and Shane Manilal as Mingus.

2016: A new production staged at the Market Theatre opening 30 March, directed by Malcolm Purkey. Sarah Roberts designed the costumes and sets for this production and Arthur Molepo is the musical director. It was part of the celebrations surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Market Theatre

2017: The 2016 production was revived at the Market Theatre by Purkey, with a cast that consisted of: Arthur Zitha (as "Fahfee"), Barileng Malebye ("Princess"), Christine van Hees ("Ruth Golden"), Hlengiwe Lushaba ("Madlala Mama"), Joel Zuma ("Charlie"), Sandile Dlangalele ("Mingus"), Sechaba Ramphele ("Jakes") and Tshepiso Tracey Tshabalala ("Lulu").

2018: The play was performed as Sophiatown the Musical at the South African State Theatre, Pretoria, from 13 April to 13 May. Directed by Aubrey Sekhabi with Thabiso Tshabalala ("Jakes"), Caitlin Clerk ("Ruth"), Terrence Ignacious Ngwila ("Mingus"), Kenneth Mlambo ("Fahfee"), Simphiwe Ndlovu ("Princess"), Madge Kola ("Mamariti"), Zamah Ngubane ("Lulu") and Bongani Masango ("Charlie"). The technical crew consisted of Zakhele Mabena (Musical Director), Bafikile Sedibe (Choreographer), Mandla Mtshali (Lighting Designer), Lungile Cindi (Costume and Set Designer), Irene Mathe (Senior Stage Manager and Costume Designer), Kea Moeketsane (Assistant Director) and Busisiwe Masemola (Costume Coordinator/ Dresser).

Sources

Sophiatown theatre programme, 1986.

Photograph (1986 production) held by NELM: NELM Location: Photograph collection [Collection: JUNCTION AVENUE THEATRE COMPANY]: 2016. 293. 6.

Loren Kruger. 1999. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910. Routledge: pp.96-7.

Junction Avenue Theatre Company website

Sunday Times, 17 April 1994.

Financial Mail, 24 March 2016.

South African State Theatre, "Sophiatown the Musical only at the State Theatre", Artslink (04/04/2018)[1]

Edward Tsumele. 2017. "Sophiatown not just song and dance about nostalgia", Business Day, 20 April 2017[2]


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