The Suitcase brings together a unique partnership of venues in the North of England and the Market Theatre Johannesburg, marking the internationally renowned theatre company’s return to the UK after a five year absence. This partnership, the first of its kind, enables international work to be performed across five northern cities, sharing programming and strengthening audience development. The tour has been made possible through National Lottery Funding from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring programme.

It’s a story never more relevant to our time, exploring issues of identity, migration, exile and celebration of the human spirit. The show will have its UK premiere at Hull Truck Theatre (31 August–9 September) as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017’s Freedom season before touring to Newcastle (14-16 September), Derby (20-23 September), Lancaster (27-29 September) and Liverpool (4-7 October).

1950s South Africa. A young newly married couple leave their rural village and disapproving family for the city of Durban. Their goal: to return home rich and free. But, alienated in the city, unemployed and poor, Timi starts to lose his moral compass. Desperate to provide for his pregnant wife, he steals a suitcase left on a bus not knowing what might be inside; an act which brings frightening consequences, dramatic twists and unexpected turns.

Based on a true story, The Suitcase has been nominated in the New Director category in the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards for The Rosalie van der Gucht Prize. Director James Ngcobo saw enormous theatrical potential in this poignant and emotive story and so adapted it for the stage. The production - evocative, visual and moving - encompasses African storytelling and lyrical music at its very best.

The Market Theatre Johannesburg, known internationally as ‘Theatre of the Struggle’, challenged the apartheid regime and dared to stand up against social injustice, acting as a vital and powerful voice for freedom and emancipation. Its 21 international and over 300 South African theatre awards bear testament to the courage and artistic quality of its work. Today, the Market Theatre remains at the forefront of South African performance, actively encouraging new productions to reach international stages.

The decision to tour The Suitcase in the UK was inspired by Hull Truck Theatre’s visit to South Africa in 2015. Hull Truck Theatre Mark Babych (Artistic Director) and Jill Adamson (Director of Engagement and Learning) visited as part of a group of delegates to promote artistic exchange between the North East of England and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, funded by the Swallow Foundation.

Playwright Es’kia Mphahlele is among South Africa’s greatest writers, thinkers and critics. Respected worldwide as a literary luminary, he has published many short stories, essays and novels dealing with issues of race and South Africa’s changing society.

Composer Hugh Masekela is a legendary Grammy Award-winning South African musician, best known for writing anti-apartheid songs including Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela).

Director James Ngcobo became the first black artistic director of Market Theatre Johannesburg in 2013, and continues to enhance the theatre’s worldwide reputation for artistic greatness. He has a passion for working with undiscovered actors, young designers and artists to tell new South African stories.

Mark Babych, Artistic Director at Hull Truck Theatre, says:

‘It’s been a long-held ambition to work with the Market Theatre Johannesburg. As a young director, they opened my eyes to the power of theatre as they battled with the human tragedy of the apartheid years – inspired by the work of Athol Fugard, Barney Simon and the breath-taking power of performers like John Kani, Winston Ntshona, Percy Mtewa and Mbongeni Ngema.

The Market Theatre still holds a special place in my heart. It’s a dream come true to welcome this wonderful company to our city as part of our 2017 programme, and to share the UK premiere of The Suitcase across five great cities.’

James Ngcobo, Artistic Director at Market Theatre Johannesburg, says:

‘We are so excited that we are about to visit the UK with a story set in South Africa - yet anyone can relate to this universal tale of a man who wants to change his life. Whenever we perform this piece, people have always said that there are clear parallels with their own lives when they witness how Timi's life unfolds.

This tour is happening this year all because of the buckets of passion that Mark Babych has brought to the idea of a piece from South Africa coming to Hull in such a landmark year.

We are looking forward to bringing the story by the prolific Professor Eskia Mphahlele to Hull and the Northern tour after that - this visit is the gateway to the beginning of a relationship with Hull Truck Theatre, a relationship that will carry on past this tour.’

Thur 31 August – Sat 9 September, 7.30pm
Sat 9 Sept, 2pm
Tickets: Pay What You Can - Thur 31 August
£12 - £22.50

Thur 14 Sept, 6pm
Fri 15 Sept, 7.30pm
Sat 16 Sept, 2pm & 7.30pm
Tickets from £10

Weds 20 – Sat 23 September
Evenings: 7.30pm - Saturday Matinee 2.30pm
Tickets: £15.50 - £26.50

Weds 27 Sept - Fri 29 Sept at 7.30pm
Tickets: £15.50 - £19.50

Wed 4 – Sat 7 October
Eves: Wed, Fri, Sat at 7.30pm
Mats: Thur at 5.30pm, Sat at 2pm
Tickets: £10 – £30

Market Theatre Johannesburg was founded in 1976 by Mannie Manim and the late Barney Simon and was constructed out of Johannesburg’s Indian Fruit Market – built in 1913. The theatre went on to become internationally renowned as South Africa’s 'Theatre of the Struggle'. It challenged the apartheid regime, armed with little more than the conviction that culture can change society. In providing a voice to the voiceless, The Market Theatre did not forego artistic excellence, but made a point of it. Its twenty-one international and over three hundred South African theatre awards bear eloquent testimony to the courage and artistic quality of its work. It continues to be a theatre that is engaged, challenging and entertaining. The staff team remain committed to maintaining the highest possible artistic standards as it searches out exemplary new writing, and the best new, young directors and designers.

Hull Truck Theatre is a producing theatre right in the heart of Hull, making thrilling work of exceptional quality with a distinctive northern voice. Inspired by their city, they tell powerful human stories that resonate with our times. They make work with local people, programme the very best in live performance and build partnerships with others to create a vibrant and dynamic cultural hub for Hull that is inspiring, creative and welcoming. Hull Truck Theatre is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.

Northern Stage is the North East’s premier producing theatre and regarded as one of the top ten producing theatres in the country. The company has a reputation for breathing new life into classic texts, curating ambitious and sometimes daring contemporary theatre and working with thousands of people every year in a strong participation programme. Northern Stage also hosts a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, presenting some of the most interesting theatre from across the north of England.

Derby Theatre has a long and rich history of delivering high quality drama to audiences. Previously Derby Playhouse, their unique partnership with the University of Derby and an Arts Council England award of strategic funding, built on via their entry into their National Portfolio in April 2015, means Derby Theatre is transforming from a traditional producing house to an organisation of training, mentorship and artistic excellence.

The Dukes is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. The Dukes receives funding from Arts Council England, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council, Lancaster University and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The Dukes won the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Children and Young People and is a 2017 NW Cultural Education Awards winner.

Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse are two distinct theatres, almost a mile apart, which together make up a single artistic force. Their mission is to reflect the aspirations and concerns of their audiences, to dazzle and inspire them, welcome and connect with them, nurture the artists within them and fuel their civic pride. Wherever these connections happen – whether in theatres, in the community, in schools, or outside Liverpool – they hope to ignite the imagination, explore what it is to be human and always to exceed expectation.

Hull UK City of Culture 2017 is a 365-day programme of cultural events and creativity inspired by the city and told to the world. Hull secured the title of UK City of Culture 2017 in November 2013. It is only the second city to hold the title and the first in England. Divided into four seasons, this nationally significant event draws on the distinctive spirit of the city and the artists, writers, directors, musicians, revolutionaries and thinkers that have made such a significant contribution to the development of art and ideas.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.
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