The Tables Trilogy

Using only tables, movement and the bodies of the six actors, I devised this non-verbal piece (with a third of it having been done during my BA Honours year at UCT) that premiered at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival Fringe in 1999.

The Tables Trilogy comprises of three independent pieces, the unifying feature in each is the multi-functional use of tables. It explores universal issues rooted in local experience such as the cyclical nature of oppression and resistance (one group oppresses another, the oppressed come to rule and oppress others); truth and reconciliation, crime and the arms trade. It also satirizes the elusive promise of freedom, with directions to freedom being changed constantly, and freedom escaping from those who were just about to embrace it.


Having picked up the Fleur du Cap Best Script award for Dinner Talk – a highly verbal piece – the previous year, I experimented with a completely different, non-verbal style (reminiscent of The Dogs Must be Crazy) with The Tables Trilogy for the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in 1999. The three playlets were to explore completely different themes with multi-functional tables being used as the primary props in each piece.

This piece had its roots in my year as a Drama Honours student at UCT in 1986 where I created a non-verbal work, Turning the Tables, to explore the cyclical nature of oppression and resistance. My recent return to Cape Town coincided with Warrick Grier’s return from several years of training in mime and physical theatre in France. We teamed up to create Turning the Tables – I devised the basic premise of each playlet, and Warrick gave it further layering and texturing.

The production was made possible with a grant from the National Arts Council.

Production Details

First production – Standard Bank National Arts Festival Fringe, 3-8 July 1999
Director – Warrick Grier


Nan Hamilton, Nana Mngoma, Thando Mthi, Mbuso Shandu and Thabathani Zakwe.


Standard Bank National Arts Festival, 3-8 July 1999

What the Critics Said

“The issue of freedom is cleverly explored in Mike van Graan’s compelling theatrical experience, The Tables Trilogy. Van Graan, South Africa’s most respected and tenacious cultural activist and acclaimed playwright, has effectively conceived one of the most searingly honest, emotionally arresting and visually exciting South African performances I’ve ever seen.”

- Suzy Bell, Independent on Saturday, July 10, 1999

“In The Tables Trilogy, skulls dangle from military medals, guns are concealed in Bibles, tables double as prisons, trains, boxing rings – anything you can imagine. In this ‘living and portable theatre’, Mike van Graan and director Warrick Grier explore facets of mime, gesture and physical theatre to make their stand on where we’ve come from and where we are going. Sequences of stark, simple images emerge from focused images steeped in tactile black comedy. Five performers…collude with five tables to cleverly depict the onset of colonization through to democracy. The action-based narrative and sound-based gibberish explore the horror and terror of political struggle. It also lambastes corruption and a new emergent fascism. Cultural activist Mike van Graan…(is) bang on target as usual.”

- Adrienne Sichel, Star Tonight July 7 1999

“You have to brace yourself for a Mike van Graan play. He is, after all, South Africa’s arts activist supreme and a man of fine but controversial taste….The Tables Trilogy is, like its creator, a rigorously activist piece of work. It demands painstaking attention as it leads the audience through fascist horrors on a path to freedom, finally posing complex questions around liberation and the violent failure of its achievements….You leave the theatre reeling with a sense of confirmation that something has gone terribly wrong with our political system. At a time of relentless efforts – both honest and affected – at reconciliation, it seems almost out of place, politically incorrect, if you like that a playwright should be confessing to the view that things have gone awry. Perhaps symbolically, Van Graan’s decision to go without dialogue makes this strike at one even more savage.”

- Janet Smith, Cue Arts Editor, National Arts Festival, July 1999

Availability of script and visual recording

There is no script (only written notes) or visual recording of this piece. Please contact for more details.