Mirror, Mirror

As part of my writer-in-residence programme at UCT’s Drama Department in 2006, I was commissioned to write this satire as a project for their final year students.

Mirror, Mirror is a fairytale satirising recent and contemporary South African society. The play is both itself a mirror of post-apartheid South Africa, and a challenge to artists to reflect on their role within it. The play takes its title both from the “Mirror, Mirror on the wall” fairytale that determines the style of the piece and the notion that art is a mirror reflecting society back to itself. The main character in the play is Artymir, a combination of Art and Mirror, an artist who remains true to his calling despite the changing political conditions.

In the first half, the country is ruled by Queen Amanda who presides over her Kingdom with its revolting peasants, spoilt nobles, brutal soldiers and immoral priest, approximating the apartheid era. Within this mix are the opera singer who sings what the Queen wants, the protest theatre practitioners who tell us – repetitively - that things are bad, and Artymir who uses his art to make sharp commentary about the oppressive rule of Queen Amanda.

The second half of the play takes place after the queen has been overthrown, with Number 1 and Number 2 ruling in a land where nepotism, corruption and a devastating plague flourish, where the gap between the rich and poor grows wider and where Queen Amanda’s newsreader is kept, but on a different leash. In this mix, are the protest theatre practitioners who say they now don’t know what to protest about, the opera singer who’s happy to sing a different tune for her new masters, and Artymir who upsets the new rulers as much as he did Queen Amanda.


In August/September 2006, I was the artist-in-residence at the University of Cape Town’s drama school, my alma mater. One of my tasks was to write a new play for the final year acting students of 2007. * I met with the eight students who were to take part in the play to solicit ideas from them and to ascertain the issues that were of pertinence to their generation. Afterwards, I decided to write a play that articulated the concerns that I had raised in my public lecture, as a challenge to society and artists generally, and more specifically to the student actors who would be graduating and would themselves become artists in the real world of contemporary South Africa.

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Production Details

First Production – 29 June-10 July 2007 at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown

Director – Geoffrey Hyland

Cast – Graham Watkins, Portia Mntuyedwa, Peggy Tuniswa, Sibongile Balfour, Emily Child, Sannie Fox, Phakamisa Zwedala and Andrew Laubscher.


29 June-1 July 2007 - Student Festival, Main Programme, Grahamstown
2-5 July 2007 - Fringe, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
9-10 July 2007 - Schools Festival, Grahamstown
1-5 August 2007 - Arena Theatre, UCT, Cape Town
14-16 September 2007 - Hilton Arts Festival, Pietermaritzburg

What the Critics said

“Playwright Van Graan’s acerbic script doesn’t mess about. He manages to cover all of South Africa’s modern history in about 70 minutes and does it with a slick brand of dovetailed sharp humour and piercing introspection.” – Brett Adkins, The Herald 29 July 2007

“Afgesien van die ernstige boodskap, het die stuk ’n sterk en interessante storielyn; dis aanskoulik met mooi kostuums” – Mariana Malan

“Theatre is for revolution, education and dreams. Mirror Mirror tries to evoke that same spirit but in this new era.” – Geoffrey Hyland

Availability of script and visual material

The script is available in unpublished form and a recording made for archival purposes is available from the UCT Drama Department. Please contact info@mikevangraan.co.za for more details.