Greek cast performs South African play

The story of a love triangle, set in 1950s apartheid-era South Africa, will come to the stage of the Knossos Theater as Can Themba’s play «The Suit» opens tomorrow. Performed for the first time ever by an all-white cast – a conscious choice of award-winning director Sotigui Kouyate – the play also bears the signature of world renowned theater producer and director Peter Brook, who first brought it into the international limelight. Can Themba spent a large part of his short life (he was born in 1924 and died of alcohol-related problems in 1968) in Sophiatown, near Johannesburg in South Africa, before it was ravaged by the authorities. After attending the University College of Fort Hare, he wrote articles for Drum magazine in the 1950s, as part of a group of black activist journalists. In the 1960s he was exiled to Swaziland, where he eventually died. His work was banned in South Africa from the mid-1960s and only became available to the wider public in the 1980s. «The Suit» went beyond English-speaking audiences for the first time in 1999: Peter Brook included it in his repertoire, when dedicating an entire season of his Bouffes du Nord theater to South African theater, as Kouyate explained at a press conference held at the French Institute in Athens earlier in the week. That production, featuring Kouyate in one of the roles, was such a success that it ran for three years and toured Europe, North and South Africa, Asia, USA, Latin America and the Middle East. «Brook was the one who suggested I should stage it in Greece,» said Kouyate. «I said I wanted to, but I wanted to do it with Greek actors. I was told I could find Africans in Greece who spoke Greek, but I wasn’t interested. This play is a statement on racism, even more so when performed by white actors. Brook gave his approval for this play to have a white cast for the first time and said it was only for Greece.» Brook, who was also in Athens a few months ago for his production of «Sizwe Banzi is Dead» (performed in early June at the Ilissia Denissi Theater), met the Greek cast which consists of Lambros Tsagas, Bessy Malfa, Yiannis Stamatiou and Costas Kladis. Kouyate, who has been a close collaborator of Peter Brook’s for over 20 years, said he based his direction of «The Suit» on that of the latter. Translated by Louiza Mitsakou, the production will also feature traditional African music selected by Brook. The play tells the story of a menage a trois, between a man, his wife and her lover’s costume. «On the one hand, it deals with problems that couples face all over the world and that everyone handles in his own way. On the other hand, it is about our inability to understand where our limits are and where we should draw the line, which breeds the lack of tolerance and hate. This leads to the great question: Does it require a huge effort to reach acceptance and forgiveness? And even if we are willing to accept and forgive, what if our ability does not extend as far? Where does our weakness come from? There is no answer to that, but it is a question I ask every day. We must never lose hope,» said Kouyate. «The play’s theme is universal. It goes beyond the apartheid and is about all those repressed and excluded, because, for one thing, it explores the boundaries between people.» «The most important thing in this play is freedom, on all levels,» added Bessy Malfa. Kouyate talked very warmly about the strong bond he feels he has with Greece, because of the close friends he has here. His first contact with Greece was his meeting with actor Georges Corraface (current director of the Thessaloniki Film Festival) in 1985, while performing in Peter Brook’s «Mahabharata.» «There are incredible similarities between the Greek and African cultures,» added Kouyate. «One of my predecessors, the first ‘Kouyate’ in the 13th century, celebrated to this day, had his leg tendons cut. It reminds me of the story of Oedipus, who spent his life tortured by his injured legs although it was for different reasons.» Knossos Theater, 11 Knossou & 195 Patission, tel 210.867.7070/862.4463.

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