Green Man Flashing (2004)

Green Man Flashing is a fast-paced political thriller written in a filmic style. It explores themes of personal and political violence, as well as the lengths people will go to in the name of greater political good. All this is played out against the backdrop of a young democracy still dealing with its racist history, but where violence against women is of national crisis proportions. Green Man Flashing takes on the challenge of deep moral and political questions for which there are no easy answers and provides insight into the very real themes that occupy thinking South Africans.

It is six weeks before the country’s second elections in 1999.  The white personal assistant to a high profile, black government minister with an impeccable anti-apartheid struggle record, alleges that he has raped her.  Should the allegation become public, it would seriously damage the governing party in the elections. The party sends a two-member delegation to persuade the alleged victim not to go through with the charges, offering her tempting alternatives...
The title is a reference to the pedestrian crossing signal at a set of traffic lights.  To say more, would be to take away an “eureka” moment in the play.

History

Green Man Flashing was regarded by many as a turning point for contemporary South African drama because of the way it dealt with contemporary politics.  But it was also regarded as being more remarkable for anticipating the real life drama of the ANC Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, being linked to charges of corruption in the arms deal and then later charged with rape.

As Len Ashton, columnist for the Sunday Independent put it in 2005 (before Zuma was charged with rape in 2006),

“No wonder Green Man Flashing is a hot ticket.  The immediate topicality of the Mike van Graan play is breathtaking.  The rapt Baxter Theatre audience recalled the tension of parliamentarians at last week’s Zumagate denouement….Full marks to Van Graan for prescience.”

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Production Details

First production – Fringe, National Arts Festival, 2-9 July 2004.
Producer – Original producer: Mike van Graan/Article 27, then the Market Theatre (2005)
Director – Clare Stopford

Casts

  • Original cast (2004): Jennifer Steyn as Gabby Anderson; Vusi Kunene as Aaron Matshoba; Charlotte Butler as Anna Richards; Sechaba Morojele as Luthando Nyaka and Andre Samuels as Inspector Abrahams.
  • Market Theatre (2005): Michelle Douglas, James Ngcobo, Charlotte Butler,
  • Sechaba Morojele and Andre Samuels
  • Baxter Theatre (2005): Jennifer Steyn, Tshamano Sebe, Roberta Fox, Chris Gxalaba and Andre Samuels
  • The staged reading at the PANSA/UCT Festival of Reading of New Writing directed by Liz Mills in 2003 featured Clare Berlein as Gabby, Tshamano Sebe as Aaron, Terry Norton as Anna, Itumeleng wa-Lehulere as Luthando and Ivan Abrahams as Inspector Abrahams.

Seasons

  • National Arts Festival 2-9 July 2004
  • Market Theatre Lab 3 shows, July 2004
  • Hilton Arts Festival 17-18 Sept 2004
  • Market Theatre 12 Jan-20 Feb 2005
  • Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (PACOFS) 1-12 March 2005
  • Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees 29 Mar-1 Apr 2005
  • Baxter Theatre Centre 23 May-25 Jun 2005

What the Critics Said

…Green Man Flashing is a pertinent and important play to see; in fact, it will in time be recognized for the ground-breaking work it is.

- Brent Meersman, Mail and Guardian, June 17-23

“Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing brilliantly lays bare the difficult paradoxes South Africans have to confront in achieving the real promise of our inspiring constitution: our ability to live it.”

- Prof Njabulo Ndebele: Vice Chancellor, University of Cape Town

“Many contemporary plays grapple with the heart and mind of conflict and post-conflict life, with all its contradictions, but Green Man Flashing carries a high-voltage current that touches the nerve ends.”

- Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Literature Laureate

“A breakthrough for drama in the New South Africa.  It had me on the edge of my seat.”

- David Kramer: singer, writer, director

“One of the most compelling pieces of post-apartheid theatre; its tight and mature dialogue reflecting, with honesty, the struggle for morality in the new South Africa.”

- Judith February: Political Commentator, Institute for a Democratic South Africa (IDASA)

….after the premiere at the National Arts Festival in 2004

A standing ovation by a packed house greeted this premiere of Mike van Graan’s much-awaited new play. Green Man Flashing…lives up to its promise of being an adventurous work that maps out a future of political engagement in post-apartheid writing.  Van Graan employs the same acerbic wit and sharp insight that have distinguished him as one of the country’s foremost cultural activists, and he leaves no stone unturned in this fast-paced, engaging drama about the new(ish) South Africa….Ever-defiant, Van Graan is set to lead a new brand of politically active theatre in South Africa.  This is a work destined to ruffle feathers, step on toes, and generally annoy most people vaguely affiliated to the powers that be.  It will undoubtedly emerge as one of the finest plays of this year’s fringe.

- Anton Krueger, Cue, official Festival newspaper, 3 July 2004

Protest theatre has struggled to come to terms with itself after 1994….The good news is that even though it’s taken ten years, protest theatre is evolving again.  In Green Man Flashing, Van Graan’s writing and Stopford’s direction conspire to infuse the stage with the kind of subtlety a country and era as complex as ours should demand of its theatre.  It’s about time.

- Max Rayneard, This Day, 6 July 2004

Green Man Flashing is an outstanding production that does justice to a difficult genre (of political thrillers).

- Braam van der Vyver, Litnet, 13 August 2004

Fortunately for the discerning theatre lover at the festival, there is the adventurous Fringe and Mike van Graan.  In his much discussed production Green Man Flashing, Van Graan shows again why he has been such a thorn in the flesh as a cultural activist for the new elite in the last few years.

- Gabriel Bothma, Arts editor, Die Burger 7 July 2004

Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing achieves what none of the main shows do in pushing new boundaries….It provides an acute dissection of many of the most pressing contemporary political issues….The scripting is tight, and deals with these large issues in a manner that remains gripping and, at times, moving.

- Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, Mail and Guardian, July 9-15 2004

The true measure of the Fringe is if it offers substantial new work.  Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing…staged with marvellous insight by Clare Stopford, led the way.  This finely crafted drama screams to be seen.  It tears at the heart and soul of our democracy, and rips at the underbelly of corruption and political power through its astute writing….

- Adrienne Sichel, Star Tonight, 6 July 2004

One of the treats of the fringe was the staging of the 2003 PANSA playwriting contest winner, Green Man Flashing.  Written by Mike van Graan, directed by Clare Stopford, it perpetually played to full houses and standing ovations….What can’t be disputed about this big-screen-thriller anecdote is that it’s got its finger firmly on the pulse of the precariousness of our democracy and the distance between politicians and the increasingly marginalized public.

- Peter Tromp, Cape Times, 14 July 2004

The first people who jumped to their feet to give playwright Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing its deserved standing ovation at its premiere in Grahamstown were a group of about 20 young adults, aged between 18 and 25.  This was the most telling facet in the evolution of Van Graan’s significant play.  Not only did that moment speak of its range of audience reach, but it also spoke of its collection of universal themes, brilliantly localised under the critical eye of this consummate South African commentator….Is it the quintessential South African play needed for this time in our country’s history?  Many at the festival seem to think so. It is certainly one of the most debated plays on offer….Van Graan has written a deeply disquieting, relevant personal-political thriller, reflecting these times of corruption, cover-ups and smoke screens.  It cuts to the chase as a drama and does what theatre is supposed to do – it provokes and it makes you think and it makes you feel.

- Rafiek Mammon, The Argus, 8 July 2004

What the critics said…

…after it opened at the Market Theatre in January 2005

“…a thrilling human drama…cleverly structured and brilliantly staged…”

- Dianne de Beer, Pretoria News, 18 January 2005

“…a brave, honest and clever play…a remarkable play…”

- Robert Greig, Sunday Independent, 23 January 2005

“…a play that comes very close to defining the state of our society today”

- Lerato Mogoathle, Sunday Times, 23 January 2005

“…Green Man Flashing is a must see…one of the year’s theatre highlights”

- Kobus Burger, Beeld, 20 January 2005

“…fast-paced and intellectually engaging play about the new South Africa.”

- Luvuyo Kakaza, City Press, 30 January 2005

“…a tense and gripping political thriller…entertainment for the thinking person”

- Mary Jordan, Business Day, 7 February 2005

“Green Man Flashing gets standing ovations with justification….It is universal and is of the highest international standards.”

- Ingrid Lehmensich, Litnet, 30 January 2005

….after it opened at the Baxter Theatre in May 2005

A play like this, with a talented cast, is a gift for a director…if this is what Van Graan dares to produce as theatre for post-1994 audiences, all one can say is, more, please.

- Beverley Brommert, Cape Argus Tonight, 31 May 2005

Green Man Flashing is written with skill and an assured sense of dare.  I urge you…to go and see the standing-ovation inducing Green Man Flashing.

- Suzy Bell, Review, Cape Times 31 May 2005

…Green Man Flashing is a pertinent and important play to see; in fact, it will in time be recognized for the ground-breaking work it is.

- Brent Meersman, Mail and Guardian, June 17-23

Availability of Script

  • The script has been included in New South African Plays edited by Charles Fourie, and is also available as an individual work by Junkets Publishing in South Africa and Aurora Metro in the UK. 
  • A DVD with excerpts of the play is available from MVG Productions.
  • Faith Creations, a Cape Town based film company, has optioned Green Man Flashing to make it into a movie.
  • This play was the prescribed work for Hershel High School in 2009.

Awards/recognition

  • Jury Award, PANSA/UCT Drama Department Festival of Reading of New Writing, November 2003.
  • Nominee: Best New South African Play Produced, Naledi Theatre Awards, 2005
  • Nominee: Best New Script, Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, 2005

Miscellaneous

Comments on Green Man Flashing by various high profile South Africans:

“Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing brilliantly lays bare the difficult paradoxes South Africans have to confront in achieving the real promise of our inspiring constitution: our ability to live it.”

- Prof Njabulo Ndebele, Vice Chancellor, University of Cape Town

“Many contemporary plays grapple with the heart and mind of conflict and post-conflict life, with all its contradictions, but Green Man Flashing carries a high-voltage current that touches the nerve ends.”

- Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Literature Laureate

“A breakthrough for drama in the New South Africa.  It had me on the edge of my seat.”

- David Kramer, singer, writer, director

“One of the most compelling pieces of post-apartheid theatre; its tight and mature dialogue reflecting, with honesty, the struggle for morality in the new South Africa.”

- Judith February, Political Commentator, Institute for a Democract South Africa (IDASA)

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