Anna Kilcooley interviews the main characters from The Island which plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres from 23rd-27th May.

Edward Dede as Winston and Mark Springer as John _The Island

Image - Edward Dede as Winston & Mark Springer as John in The Island, credit Joel Fildes

The Island is a challenging play, written in 1970’s Apartheid South Africa. Played in the round of the Tobacco Factory theatre, it tells the story of two unlikely friends, making their way through days of crippling prison work. To escape reality, they prepare for a performance of Antigone in front of prisoners and guards.

A drama of defiance and determination, it draws on stories from the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner.

We spoke to lead actors, Edward Dede and Mark Springer, to ask them a little more about what it’s been like so far.

What should audiences expect from The Island?

Edward Dede: To be taken on a journey which will fully immerse them in the world of these two characters, incarcerated in a cell, in prison on Robben Island. As a performance, it's stripped back with just myself and Mark playing these characters onstage, dealing and coming to terms with their situation. It's deeply personal, raw and honest at times but also funny, heartwarming and moving at the same time. Knowing the show is based on real-life experiences and set in the same notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years out of the total 27years he served behind bars, will definitely connect with audiences about the injustices faced by millions under apartheid in South Africa at that time.

How do you think the messages from the play are relevant today?

ED: In its core themes, the play has strong relevance to issues we see in society today. Along with the exploration of race, identity and civil rights, there is a core message running through of standing up against oppression and injustice despite the risks involved. You can also draw parallels with ongoing situations right now in different countries, of those who are imprisoned and even executed for speaking out against particular regimes and dictatorships. A testament to Athol Fugard's writing is that the play is universal in its story, which has lead to countless adaptations and performances of The Island across the world.

Mark Springer: Unjust regimes like Apartheid which caused characters like John and Winston (co-creators of the play) and obviously Mandela (amongst many others) to fight against them existed before Apartheid, and have continued post apartheid.   Unfortunately, the messages in this play will be relevant for as long as humans roam the earth.  There seems to be an endless desire for one human being to oppress another.

The original actors who played the main characters co-won the Tony Award for best actors in a play. How will you live up to that, and how will you bring your own touch to the roles?

ED: It's inspiring and an honor for me to perform in this show knowing the history and background of how Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona created this brilliant play and the trials they went through personally just to perform the Island. I think from our performances, we can only bring our own interpretation of the characters of John and Winston for audiences today. I hope it will remind audiences of how Kani and Ntshona used this play in such a powerful and purest way as a platform to highlight how brutal the apartheid system was and how enduring the human spirit is.

MS: Our aim has never been to live up to what the original actors' achieved with the play in terms of awards or anything else. We are performing this play as Brits in 2017, without our liberty being at risk for presenting the piece, and are not fearing the spectre of an institution like Robben Island.  The conditions and climate that we are working under cannot be compared!  We have simply tried to imbue this production and these roles with hard work, imagination, respect, integrity and every ounce of talent that we can muster.

the island actors

Image - Edward Dede as Winston & Mark Springer as John in The Island, credit Joel Fildes

What did you find hardest about the play?

ED: The show shifts and changes quite rapidly in different moments, everything is stripped back and it runs straight through with no break. It's intimate and up close and personal as a show and requires us as actors to tell the story just using our physicality at times. Of course, it can be challenging to maintain this energy all the way through but so far it's been great and exciting to deliver this to audiences each night and see how they react or engage with the show.
MS: I found the physical demands of the piece particularly challenging.  However, with our wonderful movement director (Diane Alison Mitchell) at the helm, I now feel very much on top of things.

Have you visited Bristol before, and if so what are you looking forward to checking out? If not, what will you be looking out for?

ED: I haven't had the chance to visit Bristol before so I'm really looking forward to visiting places and sights - friends mention there's so much on offer, which is great. Hopefully getting to see the historic ships on the Harbourside and some of the Bristol shopping quarters and markets. I've also heard Bristol has some beautiful parks and nature reserves as well, which I hope to visit and take a stroll through.

MS: I performed the role of Mercutio in a touring production of Romeo & Juliet for Shakespeare's Globe way back in 2007. This took place in Queen square, and was one of my favourite legs on the tour.  I am therefore looking forward to returning to this lovely city.  When I do, I will simply try and take in as many of the sites as possible, and visit friends.

For more informatin and to book tickets to see The Island at Tobacco Factory Theatres, click here.

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Tobacco Factory Theatres
Theatre
The Tobacco Factory

A popular theatre and café bar in Southville, with a programme of touring and in-house productions, childrens' and music events