Market Theatre

Known as South Africa’s ‘Theatre of the Struggle’, the Market Theatre was established by a troupe of dedicated anti-apartheid actors led by Barney Simon and Mannie Manim. The group’s unique vision led to the conversion of the old Indian Fruit Market, with its soaring, cathedral-like dome, into three new theatres. The founders often participated in the physical labour themselves. The doors opened in 1976, in the same week that the Soweto Uprising began.

The Market Theatre staged controversial plays that tackled the inequities of apartheid. It was one of only a few places where blacks and whites shared the stage and performed for non-racial audiences. Well-known playwright Athol Fugard contended that "The new South Africa was blueprinted on the stages of the Market Theatre long before the politicians started talking about it."

In a 1984 interview, Barney Simon underlined the importance of the theatre:

"South Africa is an appalling place. I have friends who have been arrested. I have friends who have been blown up. One is surrounded by these grotesque biographies. And yet South Africa is an exhilarating place because everything happens in open confrontation. You know where you stand. We're not going to overthrow the government through theatre, but people will understand each other more."

Despite financial struggles and a refusal to accept apartheid state funding, the theatre became internationally renowned as the birthplace of some of the country’s best local productions. The Island, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Woza Albert, Asinamali, Bopha!, Born in the RSA, Master Harold and the Boys, Have you seen Zandile?, You Strike the Women You Strike the Rock, Egoli, Hungry Earth and Sophiatown are among the best-known examples to find a voice on the Market Theatre’s stages.
The Market Theatre remains at the forefront of South African theatre, with a focus on the production of new local work. In 2005, the Market Theatre Foundation was declared a national cultural institution.

Did You Know?

Did you know that the Market Building, built in Newtown in 1913, was the largest building in South Africa at the time?