‘Oedipus at Colonus: #aftersophocles’ to premiere at the Baxter Flipside

26 January 2023 | Story Supplied. Photo Mark Wessels. Read time 4 min.
Andrew Buckland and Faniswa Yisa in “Oedipus at Colonus #aftersophocles”.
Andrew Buckland and Faniswa Yisa in “Oedipus at Colonus #aftersophocles”.

Oedipus at Colonus: #aftersophocles will premiere at the Baxter Flipside in February 2023. The production is directed by Mark Fleishman – a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town (UCT) – with Andrew Buckland, Jennie Reznek, Faniswa Yisa and the Magnet Theatre Youth Company.

“Let there be no mistake about it; it is to this zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come; and it is there that our souls are crystallized and that our perceptions and our lives are transfused with light.” – (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 2001: 182–3)

Oedipus at Colonus: #aftersophocles, directed by Mark Fleishman – the first in an exciting season of tragic reimaginings – will run at the Baxter Flipside from 3 to 18 February at 19:30 with Saturday matinees at 14:30.

Presented by The Baxter, in collaboration with Magnet Theatre, the production forms part of the “Reimagining Tragedy in Africa and the Global South” research project (ReTAGS), funded by the Andrew W Melon Foundation, in the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies at UCT. It follows on from their huge success of Antigone (not quite/quiet), which played to great acclaim at The Baxter in 2019.

Oedipus at Colonus: #aftersophocles is made by the same creative team that produced the ground-breaking, innovative works Every year, Every day, I am walking; Rain in dead man’s footprints; Cargo; and Antigone (not quite/quiet). 

Plot and theme

Buckland joins Reznek (Creon) and Yisa (Theseus) as Oedipus wanting to be buried in the land. In that same space is a chorus of homeless occupiers who unwillingly become entangled in Oedipus’ story. Played by graduates of the Magnet Theatre Fulltime Training and Job Creation Programme who make up the Magnet Theatre Youth Company, this chorus is a powerhouse of new talent. They tell their stories through the body, text and a sonic landscape that haunts. 

There is strong evocative physical imagery, a surprising staging and now a compelling poetic text in English and isiXhosa (with subtitles), written by award-winner Qondiswa James, one of the most interesting new writers on the South African theatre scene. She has written an exquisite lyrical text answering the ancient Greek play from the past with the shocking immediacy of the contemporary moment. It is work that will shake up, unsettle and offer an unflinching reflection on the state of the nation.

This is a play about time, aging, and dying. It was written by Sophocles at the end of his life when he was an old man facing his own death. It is the third play in the so-called Theban cycle, the first being Oedipus Rex, the second being Antigone and this being the third. However, in terms of the chronology of the Theban narrative, the action of the play precedes the action of Antigone.

It is also a play about the land and belonging to the land, or more precisely, a desperate desire to belong to the land. In this way, the play, written in the fifth century BC, has immense relevance for our contemporary postcolonial, post-apartheid context in which issues of land hunger, dispossession, and occupations and removals continue to plague our society many years after the advent of democracy.

It is also a play about the limits of redemption and forgiveness. It poses a question as to whether the wrongs of the past can ever really be forgiven. Is there a possibility for penance? Is Oedipus’ tearing out of his eyes enough? At one point in the play the chorus pronounce: “There may be healing of past wrongs but no undoing them.” Can the polluted figure from the past ever be accepted in the present and what are the consequences of the polluted body being inserted into the land after death?

Booking is through Webtickets or at Pick n Pay stores. For block and schools’ bookings or fundraisers, contact Leon van Zyl or Carmen Kearns.

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