The Island

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The Island [1] is a 1973 play by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona.

The original text

A workshopped play about two prisoners on Robben Island [2], who explore life in prison and notions of freedom and identity as they put on a performance of Antigone. (Based on the experiences of Norman Ntshinga and an actual production of Antigone featuring Nelson Mandela as Creon.)

Because of the volatile political sensitivities in South Africa at that time, the play was originally called Die Hodoshe Span ("The Hodoshe Team") and was first performed at the The Space (Cape Town) under this name in July 1973. The title The Island was first used when it went to London.

First published as The Island in Statements : two workshop productions. Oxford University Press, 1974.

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1973: First performed (as Die Hodoshe Span) at The Space (Cape Town) July 1973, directed and designed by Athol Fugard with Zola (Winston) Ntshona and Bonisile (John) Kani. Lighting by Brian Astbury, with Bee Berman as stage manager. At this first performance the audience had to watch twenty minutes of the opening digging ceremony. (After this first run at The Space, the play was renamed The Island and the opening scene was shortened to ten minutes in all subsequent performances.)

The play traveled extensively abroad for a while (1974-1977) under the title The Island, achieving great success. On its return it did a round of the local theatres, and has subsequently been performed regularly, also by alternative casts.

1977: Staged by The Company in the Market Theatre, directed by Athol Fugard, with John Kani and Winston Ntshona.

1980: Presented by the Baxter Theatre starring John Kani and Winston Ntshona opening 12 March 1980.

1983: Presented by SATO under the direction of Dawie Malan, starring Leslie Fong as Winston and Kurt Egelhof as John. This production toured the country from 3 February to 23 April 1983.

1986, 1995, 2000: Revived a number of times since, i.a. by Barney Simon (Market Theatre, 1986 and Grahamstown Festival, 1995), with John Kani and Winston Ntshona. A notable revival was at the National Theatre, London in 2000 with the original cast (and Nelson Mandela in the audience).

2001: In 2001 a revival with the original cast, was staged in Washington after runs in Paris, Stockholm, London (twice) and Toronto (the revival was sparked in 1995 when Mandela requested a performance of the play for an audience of former Robben Island inmates). 2002: Production returned to London for another run. 2007: Directed: Malcolm Purkey. Cast: Mpho Osei-Tutu, Thami Mngqolo.

2013: The Barney Simon Theatre at the Market Theatre did a revival of the play, directed by John Kani, with his son Atandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana.


The Island programmes, 1980 and 1985.

Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Brian Astbury. 1979. The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo. Cape Town: Moira and Azriel Fine.

Tucker, 1997. pp 295, 345, 442.

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