SNEAK PEEK | William Kentridge’s The Head & The Load to premiere at the Joburg Theatre | Life

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  • William Kentridge’s large-scale theatre work, The Head & The Load, will be seen on the African continent for the first time.
  • This exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War illuminates the untold story of the millions of black African porters and carriers who served British, French and German battlefield forces.
  • The Head & The Load will be on stage at the Joburg Theatre from 21 April to 6 May 2023. Tickets are now on sale.

William Kentridge’s large-scale theatre work, The Head & The Load, will be seen at the Joburg Theatre for the first time on the African continent.

After a resounding opening at the Tate Modern in London in 2018 – followed by sold-out shows in New York, Amsterdam and Germany – bringing the production home to South Africa was delayed by two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdowns.

Everything you need to know about the play:

What it’s about:

This internationally acclaimed exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War illuminates the untold story of the millions of black African porters and carriers who served – and in many cases died for – British, French and German battlefield forces.

A play on the Ghanaian proverb “The head and the load are the troubles of the neck,” the historical significance of their crucial role in the conflict has remained largely unexamined for a century.

The stage set-up:

This exceptionally ambitious production runs across a purpose-built stage stretching over 50 metres along the back of the Nelson Mandela Theatre, with an intimate seating configuration for approximately 500 audience members.

The wings and backstage of the reconfigured theatre become a site-specific performance space large enough to accommodate this monumental work while the audience takes its place directly onstage for a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.

The production:

The Head & The Load sees Kentridge reunited with long-time collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa’s leading composers, as well as co-composer and music director Thuthuka Sibisi and choreographer and principal dancer Gregory Maqoma from Vuyani Dance Company.

Together, they created what the artist describes as “an interrupted musical procession”.

The powerful and evocative score is performed by an ensemble cast of extraordinary singers and musicians drawn from across the globe – South Africa, Guinea, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy – offering a perfect complement to Kentridge’s imaginative work.

This rich and multi-layered production features an international cast of 38 performers, mainly from South Africa. The cast – which includes actors Hamilton Dlamini, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Dambuza Nqumashe and Luc De Wit, with vocalists Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley – vividly brings history to life through a combination of music, text, dance, film projections, mechanised sculptures and shadow play.

Reviews:

New York Times theatre critic Jason Farago described it as “a fiercely beautiful historical pageant,” while the London Evening Standard and The Independent gave Kentridge’s “electrifying” work five stars. 

From the director:

Speaking about the production, Kentridge said, “The Head & The Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War, that is to say, about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by circumstances of the war.”

“It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility). The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up, ‘Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded.’ The Head & The Load aims to recognise and record.”

Booking information: 

A range of audience development and education initiatives, including a series of workshops and public programmes at The Centre for The Less Good Idea, will precede Joburg Theatre performances. These initiatives, alongside sponsored tickets, are key to reaching diverse communities across Johannesburg.

Making the performances accessible to as many people as possible from the communities where it is most meaningful is one of the main objectives in bringing this work to Africa.

Location: Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein 

Tickets: Prices range from R250 to R600; bookings can be made via the Joburg Theatre Box Office on 0861 670 670, the theatre website or Webtickets.

Evening performances start at 20:00:

Friday, 21 April

Saturday, 22 April

Wednesday, 26 April

Friday, 28 April

Saturday, 29 April

Tuesday, 2 May

Wednesday, 3 May

Thursday, 4 May

Friday, 5 May

Saturday, 6 May

Matinee performances start at 15:00:

Sunday, 23 April

Thursday, 27 April

Sunday, 30 April



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