Little Foot brought to life on the stage

26 June 2012

One of South Africa’s most famous hominins, Little Foot from the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site, has been incarnated in a play that has travelled around the UK – and is now headed for Grahamstown and Johannesburg.

The play of the same name as our three-million-year-old ancestor, written by South African playwright Craig Higginson, was commissioned by the National Theatre in London for its 2012 Connections Festival, an initiative to showcase youth theatre groups across the UK.

Higginson is one of 10 writers from around the world participating in the festival.

Little Foot was staged at the National Theatre in London on 21 June, and by numerous youth groups from Edinburgh in Scotland to Bristol in southwest England between April and May.

South African productions

The National Theatre agreed to let Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, in association with the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, stage a play of their own, which will be an extended version of the original production.

It will run at the National Arts Festival from 6 to 8 July and at the Market Theatre from 13 July to 19 August.

The Cradle of Humankind, where many of the world’s earliest fossils have been found, serves as the focal point of the play as the audience is taken down into the Sterkfontein caves where Little Foot was found.

“Out of sheer coincidence, the production will be released at the same time that Little Foot’s remains will finally be freed from the rock,” says the Market Theatre’s marketing manager, Lusanda Zokufa.

“It has taken 13 years to extract the hominin’s calcified bones, using brushes and dentists’ drills.”

Travelling back to where we all began

The play uses the caves as the backdrop against which the story plays out. It features a group of university students who are having a reunion a year after they last saw each other, on New Year’s Eve.

What begins as a practical joke on one of the students, Wizard, soon turns serious and seemingly tragic. “As the students delve deeper into the caves – and we travel ever deeper into their psyches and their shared histories – a chorus of ancient hominins steps through the walls of the caves,” Zokufa says.

Ancient Greek and South African mythology are also drawn on throughout Little Foot to portray modern relationships. “Not only does the audience come to a deeper understanding of their common ancestry, but the play powerfully illustrates how the best and worst of us has its roots in the ancient past.”

The Grahamstown and Johannesburg production of Little Foot is directed by Malcolm Purkey, who has collaborated with Higginson on plays originally produced by the Market Theatre, Dream of the Dog and The Girl in the Yellow Dress.

Neil Coppen, 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for theatre, contributed his skills as designer of the production. Screens will be used to create different spaces and surfaces, in addition to being used for video projections and shadow puppetry.

“In both content and form, this promises to be a unique piece of storytelling that will redefine the boundaries of contemporary South African theatre,” says Zokufa.

SAinfo reporter