Meditations on culture, land, and memory in the drama of the new South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This work deals with the current state of the South African theatre; it focuses primarily on 'white' theatre: scripted plays with a single author produced for mainstream South African and international theatres. This study examines the historical, political, and social forces that have brought about a period of pronounced turmoil in the post-apartheid South African theatre; it then explores how particular playwrights have engaged with key crisis points in their society. This dissertation focuses on four plays, one from the late 1980s - Pieter-Dirk Uys' Just Like Home' and three from the first decade of the 21st century: Lara Foot's Reach, Craig Higginson's Dream of the Dog, and John Kani's Nothing But the Truth. Other plays are drawn on briefly for comparison. The theme of the study is 'places' of whiteness, as it explores how, in the new South Africa, identities are shaped by different ideas of place: temporal, cultural, and physical. Key questions arise from each of these places. Debates about land, public versus private identities, the right to belong, guilt and forgiveness, and reconciliation across cultural boundaries are addressed, if not fully resolved, in all of the plays under discussion. The study is divided into four chapters. The first chapter provides historical background for the works under discussion, highlighting the debates currently taking place about the state of South African arts and culture. It then lays out theoretical frameworks that will be useful for analyzing these plays, in particular Peter Brook's discussion of the deadly theatre, Bertolt Brecht's aesthetic models, and Raymond Williams' analysis of subjunctive dramaturgy. The second chapter compares Uys' play, which displays the exhaustion of struggle theatre aesthetics, with Foot's work, which seeks to find a new, post-apartheid 'aesthetic of the ordinary.' By doing so, Foot's work posits a model of reconciliation through care that, although flawed, is nonetheless worthy of analysis. The third chapter turns to Higginson's and Kani's plays. Drawing parallels with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this chapter explores questions of guilt, memory, and forgiveness; this provides a foundation for a further exploration of the redefining of identities in the new South Africa. The final chapter highlights the strengths and weaknesses of all four plays, each of which is only partially successful as a dramatic work. While emphasizing the contributions of all four plays to the task of building the new South Africa, this chapter also outlines the work that remains to be done in the South African theatre and suggests possible ways forward for later generations of theatre artists.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 101-107).