Too often the women like Florence were unsung heroes and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, and strength they possessed created indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision from. The story of our early pioneers can be used in a creative way to engage and inspire the public, including the next generation of woman pioneers.
In the world-premiere of Florence, a one-person play directed by Greg Homann, playwright Myer Taub playfully experiments with time, place, language, and form to explore our contemporary moment. A disgruntled actress meets over lunch in a fancy restaurant with a playwright about the new work he has written that places Florence Phillips as a ghost at the Joubert Park fence outside the Johannesburg Art Gallery. While considering whether she will play the role, the actress imagines what it would mean to portray a dead white colonial figure today whose legacy and value is both contested and forgotten.
Starring Leila Henriques, the world-of-the-play moves across over 100 years of Johannesburg history revealing a city that captures a struggle for recognition, renewal, unrequited love, hope, and prosperity. Homann says, “The politics of staging a play today that centres on the life of a white colonial figure is a complicated business, but that’s exactly what makes this play appealing to me – the playwright is not trying to place anyone on a pedestal, rather Taub is asking questions about what we value, how we think about history, and what we see as relevant or not.”
This dynamic trio of Taub, Homann, and Henriques have been brought together by the Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo has also brought in Johannesburg based-sculptor, Richard Forbes, to design the set for the production. Award winning lighting designer, Nomvula Molepo, will light the show with costumes by Karabo Legoabe and Nthabiseng Mokone, and sound design by Ntuthuko Mbuyazi.
Paul Duncan in Hidden Johannesburg said “visiting Joburg for its history is like attending a peepshow; the tantalizing glimpses are never as satisfying as they should be. Rapid changes in the city’s short 130-year history have meant that the cityscape’s appearance never tells the full story. You still have to dig to uncover gold here”.
Dorothea Sarah Florence Alexandra, Lady Phillips (née Ortlepp; 14 June 1863 – 23 August 1940) was a South African art patroness and promoter of indigenous culture. She was married to Sir Lionel Phillips, 1st Baronet, a mining magnate and politician and was most commonly known as Florence, her middle name.
She started acquiring paintings with a view to eventually founding an art gallery, which after many difficulties took shape as the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). She played a leading role in projects aimed at cultivating and preserving the local artistic heritage. She headed a movement to preserve and restore the Koopmans-De Wet House in Cape Town and was an enthusiastic collector of Africana furniture, both for her own home and public institutions. She was instrumental, with Prof. G.E. Pearse, in establishing a Faculty of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. Florence devoted her time to encouraging the preservation of national heritage culture and artefacts.
Florence will run at the Market Theatre from 3 – 26 August 2018.