Press: Acclaimed Ruth First Play comes to Artscape

After playing to standing ovations and sold-out houses at the 2016 National Arts Festival, RUTH FIRST: 117 DAYS comes to the Artscape Arena for 8 performances from 31 July – 4 August. This production is presented as part of Artscape’s 12th annual Women’s and Humanities Festival in celebration of Women’s Month.

As we celebrate the incredible contribution women have made and continue to make in South Africa it only seems fitting that we celebrate the life of one of South Africa’s most notable struggle-icons, Ruth First. Award-winning author, Lauren Beukes described First as “the stylish revolutionary. Ruth adored Italian shoes, expensive perfumes, beautiful clothes and gourmet cuisine. But her first loves were political activism, truth and justice.”

RUTH FIRST: 117 DAYS dramatises the harrowing, real-life chronicle of First's arrest, isolation and abuse at the hands of apartheid regime interrogators.

First was a journalist, academic and political activist during the height of the apartheid era who was detained, persecuted, exiled and eventually assassinated for her activism and beliefs. Married to fellow communist and anti-apartheid activist, Joe Slovo, she served on the drafting committee of the Freedom Charter.

On 9 August 1963, First was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for 117 days under the notorious 90-day clause becoming the first white woman to be arrested under this act. Her account of her period in detention was published in her 1965 book 117 Days.

The play is an intense representation of the psychology of solitary confinement and interrogation – the humiliation of being locked away, the slow winding of the days, the effects of loneliness and sensory deprivation that almost drove First to the brink. RUTH FIRST: 117 DAYS is at the same time an inspiring portrayal of the human spirit’s ability to transcend the most brutal oppression.

The production stars Jackie Rens as Ruth First. Ms Rens was last seen in Cape Town in David Hare’s probing drama The Vertical Hour at Theatre on the Bay in 2014. Ms Rens also picked up a Best Actress nomination for her performance in The Vertical Hour at the Naledi Awards. The press at the National Arts Festival in 2016 praised Ms Rens for her tour-de-force performance and noted her striking physical resemblances to Ruth First.

Award-winning composer and musical director, Charl-Johan Lingenfelder has created an evocative, haunting soundscape that underscores the entire production. Renowned radio personality, John Maytham, in his review of the production praised Lingenfelder’s score “The sound, by Charl Johan Lingenfelder, is especially notable. Cell doors clanging shut; water dripping; a typewriter clacking as First describes key elements of her history. They all add to the sense of oppressive brutality and mental torture.”

The production marks the directorial debut of actor/designer Marcel Meyer, who is also responsible for the set and costume design. Meyer has been nominated for, and won, several national and international awards for his designs and has built a reputation for his performances in plays by Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare.

Veteran director/designer, Fred Abrahamse and award-winning lighting designer, Faheem Bardien will collaborate on the lighting design.

As South Africa and the world celebrates Madiba’s legacy in his centennial year Ruth First’s story shines another fascinating light on Madiba’s narrative. First and Mandela met in the early 1940s, while they were students at Wits, and became life-long friends and comrades. First was the only woman present at the now famous Rivonia meetings. In his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela writes: “Ruth had an outgoing personality and was a gifted writer. She was a forceful and engaging woman and her death [by letter bomb] revealed the extent of the state’s cruelty in combating our struggle.”


Booking for RUTH FIRST: 117 DAYS tickets aer through Computicket or Artscape-Dial-A-Seat (021 421 7695).  Ticket Price R150 or R40 for Scholars. 10% discount for groups of 10 or more, pensioners and students with a valid student card. 


What the press said:


“Set, lighting and sound all contribute towards this truly impressive production. Ruth First: 117 Days is a worthy contribution to the 60th anniversary of the Women’s March. It marks a successful directing debut for Marcel Meyer and gives us a performance from Jackie Rens which may well earn her another award nomination. Certainly, the audience yesterday gave her, the show and, one suspects, the late Ruth First, a standing ovation.”

– Nigel Vermaas, CUE

“The very accomplished theatrical production team of Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer have adapted First’s book for the stage; a production that also marks Meyer's directorial debut. The staging is immaculate; the three key elements of set design, sound track and lighting all make very impressive contributions to a largely engrossing evening. The sound, by Charl Johan Lingenfelder, is especially notable. Cell doors clanging shut; water dripping; a typewriter clacking as First describes key elements of her history. They all add to the sense of oppressive brutality and mental torture. Actress Jackie Rens looks and sounds remarkably like a young Ruth First and her performance is well controlled and thoughtful.”

– John Maytham CAPE TALK

“This stellar, nuanced performance by Jackie Rens reminds us of the multiplicity of evils wreaked upon individuals held ‘in cement’, as we called it in the 1980s. This is a beautiful rendition of the emotional journey which races in First’s mind while the clock slows to the drip, drip of a prison tap. But when the politics is done and dusted, this is a woman’s story. First was a beautifully groomed woman who wore smart outfits, fashionable dark glasses and lipstick. Within that aesthetic was the mind of a lioness who raised a family of like-minded democrats. This work is a wonderful tribute to that – and a creative and incandescent reminder of where we must not go again.”

– Mike Loewe, THE HERALD 

“The production – put together by director and designer Marcel Meyer, Fred Abrahamse, producer and lighting designer and composer Charl-Johan Lingenfelder – will keep you on the edge of your seat. Rens does a good job in revealing traces of Ruth’s personality that portray a loving mother and wife who was smart, a lover of words and a determined individual.”

– Nontando Mposo THE STAR TONIGHT 


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