Ruth 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 August 9, 1963, she was arrested and kept in solitary confinement 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’.
‘Ruth First: 117 Days’ dramatises the harrowing, real-life chronicle of First’s isolation and abuse at the hands of South African interrogators. It is an intense portrayal of the psychology of solitary confinement and interrogation – as well as the human interactions and relationships established with one’s captors; the humiliation of being locked away, the slow winding of the days, the effects of loneliness and sensory deprivation that almost drives one to the brink.
It promises to be a classic portrait of the human spirit’s ability to transcend the most brutal oppression.
‘Ruth First: 117 Days’ opened at the 2016 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and played to standing ovations, critical acclaim and sold-out houses.
“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,” has said Cape Talk’s John Maytham.
“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,” Maytham added.
* ‘Ruth First: 117 Days’ can be seen at the Artscape Arena from Tuesday, July 31, to Saturday, August 4.
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