Theatre closure: The Fugard Theatre, Cape Town announces permanent closure, March 16, 2021

What: The Fugard Theatre, Cape Town, South Africa Status: Closed- as of March 16, 2021 Years of operation: Ten years – 2010-2020 [officially shut down March 16, 2021, but there were no shows staged in 2021]  

It was announced last night, March 16, 2021, on The Fugard Theatre website, by its founder and producer, Eric Abraham, that the theatre is closing, “with immediate effect”. In 2020, it had been announced that the theatre was temporality closed. It was envisaged that it would re-open at the end of 2021. The temporary shut-down has become a permanent shut-down. In the announcement, Abraham says: “The theatre will be handed back to the owner of the freehold of the building – the board of The District 6 Museum – as a working theatre and we hope that they will be able to use it for the benefit of the Museum and the District 6 community.” To read the full announcement, click here

Last night, I wrote on Facebook TheCapeRobyn and on my personal Facebook page, that I was gutted to hear this news. I wrote: “Another Covid casualty. I think of all the great shows and artists, on stage in that beautiful theatre- including artists like John Kani, Antony Sher, Ian McKellen- so many legends and young creatives…”  In the comments, someone took issue with the word “casualty”. A building is not a casualty. A person becomes a casualty, not a building. I used the word ‘casualty’ with intent. We talk about the body of work of an artist. A veritable body of work has been created in a decade of the Fugard Theatre’s operation. It was a building- a heritage building –in District Six. The District was a site of dispossession and erasure as people were forcibly moved out of their homes, under the Apartheid Group Areas Act. Eric Abraham had the vision to re-constitute a building and to re-purpose it as a vital platform to tell stories. See the photos on this page. The interior of a former warehouse [Sacks Futeran] was gutted to make way for The Fugard Theatre- gutted in a good way. Palimpsests from the past were evoked in the theatre building, with the reveal of masonry and architectural elements which were left intact. Every time we stepped in to the theatre we were aware of people from the past who had been part of another milieu. The bodies and ghosts from the past, lingered. 

Eric Abraham named the theatre after our legendary playwright Athol Fugard and pledged to stage plays from Fugard’s extensive body of work –there is the ‘body’ word again. He also pledged to stage new plays by the prolific playwright and he said he would stage plays from abroad. In a decade, Abraham delivered – spectacularly. He brought us international musicals like Kinky Boots and The Rocky Horror Show which many agreed were better than productions in London and in New York. We were treated to a revival of the iconic South African musical, King Kong. There were David Kramer musicals, such as the brilliant, Orpheus in Africa. It is a long list and I will write more but that is just a taster of what was delivered to us in Cape Town.

The Fugard Theatre was a producing and receiving house and many independent companies and artists rented out the stages and presented its bodies of works. Literary festivals and poetry events took place there. The Roof Top bar provided breathtaking views of the city and we didn’t want to leave after shows. Integral to the Fugard as a living entity – a body of creativity – was its team which included Daniel Galloway (MD), Lamees Albertus (who took over as MD, shortly before lockdown when Daniel Galloway left to pursued other opportunities), Iris Bolton –the face of the Fugard, resident director Greg Karvellas and Georgia Lahusen. There was a big team. There were many more people involved. I salute Team Fugard Theatre and Eric Abraham for a decade of extraordinary theatre. What remains, is the legacy of the ten year tenure of The Fugard Theatre and its body of work.

The Fugard Theatre- under construction, Nov 2009. © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

The Fugard Theatre- under construction, November 2009. © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

The Fugard Theatre- under construction, Nov 2009. This room was initially set up as a rehearsal space but subsequently became The Fugard Studio. © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

Eric Abraham, producer and founder of The Fugard Theatre. This photo was taken in 2010, Cape Town, prior to the opening of the theatre in February 2010 [The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso & The Magic Flute –Impempe Yomlingo- February 13 – 28], which was followed by Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver [March 19 to April 11]. © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.