Skip links

40 Years of Storytelling for Market Theatre

Market Theatre is telling the story of a legacy spanning 40 years

As the Market Theatre celebrates 40 years of storytelling this month, an array of special insights into the history of this monumental theatre features throughout the June issue. Commemorating significant events from the past, some through the eyes of the people at its foundation, and looking forward to forthcoming events for the Market Theatre in the stirring art world.

For Mannie Manim, cofounder of the Market Theatre, the Market Theatre’s story began one night on a verandah in Lenasia. Manim shares his remarkable dream to start a theatre that would be open to everyone. A space that would allow the people of South Africa to make the theatre they wanted to, and challenge the Nationalist Government and it’s infamous apartheid regime at the time. We reminisce on the other half of the dynamic duo, ‘one of the twelve wise men’ Barney Simon, as referred to by Manim, and his immense passion for the Market Theatre and its people 40 years on.

40 Years of Storytelling for Market Theatre
Mannie Manim plaque – March 1991. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer

Celebrated novelist and playwright, Zakes Mda, has been involved in the Market for almost 40 years and attributes his success to the theatre, as he remembers its early days. Dark Voices Ring (1979), We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (1979) and The Hill (1980) are among the few plays produced by the literary award winner. Mda recalls first meeting Barney Simon in the street across the theatre and pouncing with the words ‘I don’t see much work by black, local playwrights at the Market theatre,’ words he intended to carry through as he was later appointed the theatre’s dramaturge.

The iconic Main Theatre of the newly renovated Market Theatre was officially named after John Kani in 2014. Kani is patron and special ambassador of the Market Theatre Foundation and his contribution to the South African Arts industry is phenomenal. As the ‘Godfather of South African Theatre’, Kani’s world renowned work within the Market Theatre over the 40 years can be seen through the eyes of those he’s shared a stage with. His involvement in the creation and workshop of Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973) afforded him a shared Tony Awards for Best Actor with Winston Ntshona. His contributions and performances in Nothing but the Truth (2002) and Missing (2014) are especially revered by all.

40 Years of Storytelling for Market Theatre
John Kani in Nothing But The Truth. Image courtesy of the Market Theatre Foundation.

Paul Slabolepszy, as another prolific playwright and actor, says coming back to the Market Theatre after a theatrical hiatus since the early 2000s, feels like coming home. With over 30 plays in over 30 years, some of his acclaimed works include Saturday Night at the Palace (1982), Mooi Street Moves (1992) and Victoria Almost Falls (1994). As he cites the moments spent at the Market Theatre, Slabolepszy shares what he has learned from Barney Simon, that ‘theatre’s a temple of sharing. It’s a temple of communion.’

In 1981, as a young man, Sello Maake kaNcube ventured to the great Market Theatre to perform in a ‘try-out’, as it was called then. The actor recalls rehearsals with Barney Simon when ‘you would see life shine through his eyes’. Now, as one of South Africa’s most in-demand actors of his generation, Maake kaNcube had been working as a full-time clock when he saw himself playing Mbongeni Ngema’s role in Woza Albert! (1986) and never looked back once he was cast.

Hello Maake KaNcube in The Pen. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer©2010
Hello Maake KaNcube in The Pen. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer©2010

Among the brilliance of the Market Theatre in the past 40 years, there have also been talented women who contributed to this influential institution. One of the few South African female storytellers, Gcina Mhlophe, calls the Market Theatre ‘the child that has seen it all’ while Dame Janet Suzman says ‘The founding of the Market Theatre was a political act in itself.’ Vanessa Cooke starred in both The Seagull and Marat/Sade in 1976, which officially opened the Upstairs Theatre and the Main Theatre respectively.

For a full read on the intriguing history of the Market Theatre, Creative Feel magazine copies are available from our online Store, at Exclusive Books, as well as at selected art hubs such as The Gavin Project (Maboneng).

Our digital magazine is also available on the Google Play (for Android) and iTunes (for Apple)

The Market Theatre 40th Anniversary book as published by the Market Theatre Foundation and Desklink Media will have loads more. Keep a look out for it!

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.