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Ruth First: 117 Days

Adapted for the stage by Marcel Meyer and Fred Abrahamse from the book by Ruth First.

Presented in association with the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown.

Direction/ Set & Costume Design: Marcel Meyer

Lighting Design: Fred Abrahamse [National Arts Festival] Faheem Bardien [Artscape]

Soundscape: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder

Photography: Mia van der Merwe CUEPIX

Cast: Jackie Rens

Venues: National Arts Festival, Grahamstown [July 2016] Artscape Arena [August 2018]

About: Ruth First was a journalist, academic and political activist during the height of the apartheid era who was detained, persecuted, exiled and eventually assassinated for her activism and beliefs. Married to fellow communist and anti-apartheid activist, Joe Slovo, she served on the drafting committee of the Freedom Charter.


On 9 August 1963, she was arrested and kept in solitary confinement under the notorious 90-day clause becoming the first white woman to be arrested under this act. Her account of her period in detention was published in her 1965 book 117 Days.


RUTH FIRST: 117 DAYS dramatises the harrowing, real-life chronicle of First's isolation and abuse at the hands of South African interrogators. 


An intense portrayal of the psychology of solitary confinement and interrogation – as well as the human interactions and relationships established with one’s captors. The humiliation of being locked away, the slow winding of the days, the effects of loneliness and sensory deprivation that almost drives one to the brink.


A classic portrait of oppression and the dignity of the human spirit.


What the Press Said:

“Set, lighting and sound all contribute towards this truly impressive production. Ruth First: 117 Days is a worthy contribution to the 60th anniversary of the Women’s March. It marks a successful directing debut for Marcel Meyer, and gives us a performance from Jackie Rens which may well earn her another award nomination. Certainly, the audience yesterday gave her, the show and, one suspects, the late Ruth First, a standing ovation.”— CUE 

“The very accomplished theatrical production team of Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer have adapted First’s book for the stage; a production that also marks Meyer's directorial debut. The staging is immaculate; the three key elements of set design, sound track and lighting all make very impressive contributions to a largely engrossing evening. The sound, by Charl Johan Lingenfelder, is especially notable. Cell doors clanging shut; water dripping; a typewriter clacking as First describes key elements of her history. They all add to the sense of oppressive brutality and mental torture. Actress Jackie Rens looks and sounds remarkably like a young Ruth First and her performance is well controlled and thoughtful.” –  CAPE TALK 

“This stellar, nuanced performance by Jackie Rens reminds us of the multiplicity of evils wreaked upon individuals held ‘in cement’, as we called it in the 1980s. This is a beautiful rendition of the emotional journey which races in First’s mind while the clock slows to the drip, drip of a prison tap. But when the politics is done and dusted, this is a woman’s story. First was a beautifully groomed woman who wore smart outfits, fashionable dark glasses and lipstick. Within that aesthetic was the mind of a lioness who raised a family of like-minded democrats. This work is a wonderful tribute to that – and a creative and incandescent reminder of where we must not go again.” – THE HERALD 

“The production – put together by director and designer Marcel Meyer, Fred Abrahamse, producer and lighting designer and composer Charl-Johan Lingenfelder – will keep you on the edge of your seat. Rens does a good job in revealing traces of Ruth’s personality that portray a loving mother and wife who was smart, a lover of words and a determined individual.” - THE STAR TONIGHT

04 Jackie Rens as Ruth First press_edited.jpg
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