When South African novelist J.M. Coetzee
wrote 'Waiting for the Barbarians',
the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko
was news around the world. Biko died in a Pretoria prison cell in 1977, after being beaten by the police.The government claimed he had died from a hunger strike. Any citizen who dared to question that, faced severe consequences.
"Waiting for the Barbarians" takes place in an an unnamed Empire, where nomadic tribes called the "Barbarians" visit border towns to do harmless business. Government security agents see them as dangerous revolutionaries, and the Barbarians are captured and tortured. One of them is a young girl. She appears before a conscience-stricken magistrate who is forced to confront the paranoia, the lies and the brutality of the system he is part of.
Coetzee's novel is considered one of the most important books of the late 20th century. Phillip Glass turned it into an opera. And now, for the first time, it is a play, an international co-production led by Canadian theatre pioneer Maurice Podbrey. The North American premiere - with the original cast from Cape Town - is onstage at the Segal Centre in Montreal.
David Gutnick takes us there. You will hear South African actors Chuma Sopotela, Grant Swanby, director Alexandre Marine and producer Maurice Podbrey.