The Market Theatre and The Jazz of Thunder
If you look at the biog and pics page of the website you’ll see myself in 1986 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a rehearsal for my first play. I have dreadlocks and I’m wearing a T shirt with the words Free Nelson Mandela Non Stop Picket 1986. The picket was at The South African Embassy in London’s Trafalgar square where, aptly, Antony Gormley’s profound 4th Plinth was launched this week.
I remember a play from that era called Woza Albert. It was south africa’s most explosive and successful piece of theatre. Here I am over 20 years later in Johannesburg in an apartment two streets from where Mandela lives and performing SomethingDark at South Africa’s most famed theatre space The Market Theatre where WozaAlbert was first performed.
Kippies, the nightclub is next door. It was my true introduction to Jo’burger fifteen years ago when I first came to perform. It’s where I met my close friend Magesh who came to the theatre tonight. Kippies - I would be wistful if I had the right - was a downtown down home jazz club. Any night you could see a world class South African Jazz player playing for a drink after having performed at some glitzy high rolling ceremony at an upscale venue in town.
In Kippies guns were passed under table and gold toothed smiles above. The gangster sat next to the musicians and both chased the international model who was in town for a photoshoot and wanted some nightlife. A place for a poet. Kippies - straight out of a Walter Mosely novel. 'cept those harlem bars have long since gone. I saw Morgan Freeman there one time, kicking back after a days filming. It was black it was coloured it was white. It is where blood boiled through the gut of saxophone and sprayed itself in rainbows through sultry low lights.
Kippies stayed open for sunrise. Man I have had some good nights in that club. The energy that year after Mandela was freed was electric. The play, my play tonight, was too and the thanks I received from men and women afterwards was breath taking. Film makers, an ex director of SABC, clothing designer for Mandela, Sonwabile, poet Lesego Rampolokeng, the head of arts and culture for Johannesburg Steve Sack and so many more came. The theatre was full. What a brilliant job the British Council have done.
Afterwards Lesego rolls over to me “my braatha my braatha....” he smiles wide and looks to the moon. He is a born poet. He’s travelled the world as poet and we have known each other a good fifteen years. Tonight is his birthday and both he and his friend are goingto get right royally drunk. We laugh outside the theatre. The full moon drinks us in. My time in South Africa has been like those old days. There’s love and vibe. I can feel the buzz around the play. I know how critical and articulate the South African artists are. World class.
So I concentrate. I rehearse. I focus. You may ask yourself why after twenty years is any of this a surprise to me. It isn’t. But success is to be savoured like failure. I write here in this blog testament to the power of art to transform. I am no fool. I am not blinded by the lights of the stage like a rabbit in the headlights. I am a working writer and performer. The stage is the end game of the most incredible and life affirming process. I must take Something Dark to New York.
Life affirmed and outside the theatre under a full moon the audience pour out. A womancame to me - a writer of many books - her eyes filled with tears. “may I hug you” she said and then with her hand on my shoulder “I am writing my own story. At last.” She said wiping tears away. “it is called Swallowing Thunder.”