Mathias, Kani prep ‘Antigone’ for fest

Fest coincides with 10th anniversary of democracy, freedom

JOHANNESBURG — Theater buffs in South Africa are abuzz at the prospect of seeing acclaimed British playwright, theater and film director Sean Mathias (“Bent”) direct South Africa’s leading thespian John Kani as King Creon in a new adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” written especially to premiere at the 30th National Festival of the Arts in July.

The 2004 festival coincides with the 10th-anniversary celebrations of democracy and freedom in South Africa. Many of the productions, like this Baxter Theater production of “Antigone,” have incorporated the themes of freedom and change.

Written by Mathias and Myer Taub, a South African playwright and member of the U. of Cape Town drama department, this adaptation is described by the writers as a production that’s “modernist and encompasses many elements of a Third Millennium life in a Third World country, much like in South Africa.”

Both Mathias and Kani have strong connections with “Antigone.” Matthias has directed various adaptations of the classic. “The Island,” the Athol Fugard play that put Kani on the world stage and won him a Tony Award, focuses on the efforts of prisoners incarcerated on Robben Island during the apartheid years to perform “Antigone.”

Following its festival performances, the production will move to the Baxter Theater in Cape Town for a run from July 7-24.

The 2004 National Arts Festival runs July 1-10 in Grahamstown, the small, quiet Eastern Cape university town that annually hosts the leading arts festival in the country. It incorporates all facets of the arts including theater, opera, classical music, jazz, art exhibitions, a film festival, ballet, modern dance and street theater.

This year’s event will feature more than 600 events and 1,800 performances, from both local and international performers.