The Market Theatre is one of Johannesburg’s most famous arts and theatre locations – if not for its rich and controversial history, then for the high quality, sometimes political, oftentimes entertaining theatre productions that are played out under its roof. In mid-2013, the Market Theatre’s Main Theatre is undergoing renovations, but there is still a handful of productions being staged in the smaller theatres throughout June, July, and August 2013.
One of those productions is the critically acclaimed The Mountaintop.
The young and talented American playwright, Katori Hall, had the idea to put into words (and then production) a fictional account of Dr. Martin Luther King’s final hours alive before he was assassinated (on 4 April 1968). In the original production, the whole play is set in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, where – in reality – King and his entourage had stayed in Memphis, Tennessee before he was to address a rally at Mason Temple. It’s here that he gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech. He had received news of death threats against him, about which he spoke, but also claimed that while things would be difficult for civil rights activists:
“…it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
He went on to say that he wasn’t worried, nor fearing anyone, but he was then shot a day later.
The Mountaintop production was originally premiered in 2009 in London, with David Harewood playing Martin Luther King, and Lorraine Burroughs playing King’s female companion. The play and the lead actors were nominated for multiple awards, with the production winning the Olivier Best New Play Award. On 22 September 2011, The Mountaintop was taken to Broadway and opened with Samuel L. Jackson making his Broadway debut as Dr. King, and Angela Bassett playing in the lead female role. The production was lauded for the story, the phenomenal acting, as well as the overall “imaginative portrayal” of the characters. A review in The Daily Telegraph claimed it to be “a beautiful and startling piece, beginning naturalistically before shifting gear into something magical, spiritual and touching.”
The Mountaintop is currently playing in South Africa at The Market Theatre, with the local version directed by Warona Seane and starring Sello Sebotsane and Mwenya Kabwe. It runs until 21 July 2013, so even if you’re just passing through Johannesburg, there is adequate transport from most OR Tambo Airport hotels, so you can make it to the Market Theatre to see The Mountaintop and make your stopover in Johannesburg really worthwhile.