On The Road: Camping out in Gotham City

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Faxes and phonecalls flying back and forth from the Donmar. Thought the transfer of Design for Living was all set - now negotiations have collapsed. On the phone to Carol Newling till 2am.

Pretty snappy the next morning - snarled at Ian McKellen, who, in any case, seemed totally distracted. Afternoon with McKellen, Sher, Doran and Selina Cadell playing 'theatre games' with the Educators. Sher and Doran played the 'status game', which involves everybody adopting a status designated by the distribution of playing cards. Sher gives the instructions and Doran hands out the cards. I've nicknamed them Bruce and Anthea. Two black boys from Squint Theatre Company improvised a series of mimed situations. One of them, Paulus, no more than 18, suddenly transformed into an 80-year-old man. This was the highlight of the day.

This evening: went to a gay and lesbian dinner in anticipation of the Gay Pride day. Our hostess was Gerry Davidson, who runs and edits a bimonthly gay paper called Exit from a bungalow in another of Jo'burg's many suburbs. Met all the leading activists and watched a TV programme promoting the forthcoming Pride.

Morning spent dealing with Design for Living. Long fax to Thelma Holt, trying to pave the way forward. Howard Sacks, on the board of the Market, took me out to relax by his glamorous pool for the afternoon. 702 (Radio Jo'burg) slagged off the Market, so I called up and got on air for five minutes. I said the Market needed subsidy, and that the subsidy should come from the government. Felt politically accomplished (PA).

Very smart dinner, at Mary Slack's, held in honour of Lady Soames, chair of the National Theatre Board. Finished off the evening with a crawl round the gay bars, ending up in a dive in Hillbrow called Gotham City. I'll omit the details.

A great day for Gay Pride, which kicked off with speeches by the organisers, as well as Sher and McKellen. The honours go to Beverly, a dyke from Soweto; straightforward, articulate, unpretentious and beautiful. Marched through the streets of Jo'burg, Sher, Doran, McKellen, Jason Barnes and myself holding a banner, waved on by a friendly, sometimes bewildered black community, who seemed to enjoy having a parade in their midst. A great way to see the city - we've been warned not to walk about because of crime (not race). Now we're traipsing along with a whole parade of moffies and South African dykes.

To Soweto, about 20mins drive away. Our introduction was via the friendly easy-going street market. It's a self-contained township with an estimated population of 4 million. There are rich, there are seriously poor, there is a middle-ground. We saw Mandela's houses old and new, millionaire's row and a hotel, not to mention a lot of graffiti ('dark and lovely' was my personal favourite), and a hostel where the migrant workers sleep 60 to a room. At Wandie's place - 'No takkies, caps or weapons' (the first being gym shoes) - we ate a delicious lunch of fish, chicken and mealie. But nothing will ever eradicate the walk through the poorest community where the smell and dirt were stifling but the spirit soared. Surrounded by scores of beautiful children aged three to 10. An old woman sang Handel's Messiah, and your heart wanted to break.

Back on the bus one of the actresses from Black Mime Theatre Company did let her heart break a little and cried out. I was sitting behind her and had a weep. Later the sight of Benji Reid, also from Black Mime, leaping outside Winnie's house and then joining a truck load of beautiful youths helped restore the balance. I think, somewhere along the way, someone had invested in the local weed.

New groups this week. Did first session with McKellen. Actors all very bright and rather glamorous. In the afternoon McKellen and Sher did a platform on Richard III chaired by Doran. Both had had international success in the role, so it was a rare treat to hear of two differing approaches. McKellen, mesmerising physically, plummy voiced. Sher, arachnid, almost grotesque, text clear as a South African day. A great day, with 12 directors, half white, articulate and privileged, the other half black, more introverted and from the townships.

Worked on physical exercises all morning (which helped integrate the group), then, in the afternoon, explored the opening of the Cherry Orchard. Never been asked so many questions. Could have worked with this group for a week, and that would still only be the beginning. Looks like transfer of D4L is off. Went with McKellen, Ric Wanetik, David Hagans (management team from America) to a dinner party at Howard Sacks's place. Sat up till 3am talking politics. Hardly any sleep.

Terrible hangover. Rehearsed a stage reading of Dark Outsider by Anthony Akerman with writer in attendance. A scene between Vita Sackville-West and her lover Mary Campbell. Fantastic group of actors in workshop, just want to spend longer with them to develop the work. Saw Black Mime Theatre Company performing. Their timing and ensemble work was wonderful and they pulled in a strong black audience. Dinner at Yeovil with an aspiring director called Myer. Jo'burg is a city filled with people who can't stop asking, talking, politicising.

Sean Mathias is a director with the National Theatre, one of a group conducting workshops for fellow practitioners in and around the Market Theatre, Johannesburg

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