Green Man Flashing (2004) - 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.”

Green Man Flashing started life as a radio play, The Reunion, broadcast on SAfm in The Saturday Play slot on 3 April 1999. This was the last English play on the public broadcaster till 2006, as the SABC decided to discontinue radio drama because of declining audiences.

The first theatre adaptation of The Reunion appeared as Slippery Slope in a season of readings of new South African works at the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town, May 2002. With the help of a grant from the National Arts Council, and influenced by the storytelling style of the Brazilian movie City of God, I completely re-wrote the play in dialogue with Clare Stopford. I entered it as Green Man Flashing into the Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA)/University of Cape Town (UCT) Festival of Reading of New Writing in November 2003. Five works were selected for staged readings over the weekend festival, and Green Man Flashing – directed by Liz Mills – won the Jury Award for “Best Play.” The Jury commended the play for its “courageous and insightful tackling of contentious, contemporary South African themes through believable, full-blooded characters.”

At that time, theatres were reluctant to produce the work as it was deemed to be too politically controversial. I then produced the work for the National Arts Festival in 2004, ten years after the advent of democracy that was supposed to have ushered in conditions more conducive to the practice of freedom of creative expression.

The first production of Green Man Flashing was rehearsed in Johannesburg with a largely Joburg cast selected by Clare Stopford, the director. The premiere on the Fringe was met with critical acclaim and enthusiastic audience responses leading to capacity houses later in the run, thereby contradicting the widely-held belief that audiences weren’t interested in, or ready for, contemporary political theatre.

Soon after the success of the piece in Grahamstown, I had made arrangements with Bernard Jay to host the play at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre. However, after his appointment as the Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, Malcolm Purkey – who had seen the play during its brief run at the Market Lab immediately after Grahamstown in 2004 – pursued the play as the first that would be hosted at the Market Theatre under his tenure, as it exemplified the kind of theatre that he wanted the Market Theatre to be doing again. Through various circumstances, this came to be the case, and Green Man Flashing opened at the Market Theatre on 14 January 2005.

The Market Theatre leased the rights to the play to the Baxter Theatre to stage its own production in May that year, with Clare Stopford directing that production too.

A staged reading of the play – directed by Amy Bonsall and with Dorothy Ann Gould in the lead role - took place at the Oval House Theatre in London in May 2006 as part of a season of readings of contemporary South African work.

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