Agatha Christie’s only non-murder mystery is a lesser-known play but is based on poignant historic record.
Akhnaton is set in Ancient Egypt and explores the lives of Egyptian pharaoh Akhnaton, his wife, Nefertiti, and his successor, Tutankhamun, and a very brief rise and fall of monotheism.
Written in 1937, around the same time Christie was writing Death on the Nile, Akhnaton is run through with stark idealism, conspiracy and murder.
The play spans 16 years of the life of Akhnaton who tried to change Egypt’s religious beliefs from the existing pantheism to monotheism, believing only in one god.
He defies the traditional stiff court rituals and even leaves Egypt’s capital city Thebes to build a new-world capital (New Horizon in the play, Amarna in modern Egyptology).
In this new capital, he surrounds himself with artists, sculptors, painters and poets and
refuses to use war in his international
politics, instead, advocating reason and diplomacy.
By doing so, he comes into conflict with two of the most influential classes in ancient Egyptian society: the clerics and the army.
Akhnaton is the latest production by Muizenberg Dramatic Society (MADS) at The Masque Theatre.
The set is resplendent with handmade detail and all of the hieroglyphics mean something related to the play.
The cast have put in months learning their lines and rehearsing three times a week.
Phillipe Pringiers says it has become a family affair. He is directing the play; his wife plays Queen Neferititi and is in charge of
creating the lavish costumes, and his daughters are both in the
show, and even his grandchildren are tasting their first stage
appearance in a crowd scene during the Saturday matinee.
His son-in-law, CJ Opperman, has helped with the set building and takes the role of the general in the play.
Lead actor Gary Green has been so enamoured by his character that every time he arrives for rehearsal he has new facts to share with the cast of 23.
Much in keeping with the spirit of Akhnaton, who held scant regard for tradition, Phillipe
says he saw the mix of young and old roles in this play as a chance to disregard gender and race.
“I did not look at this when I cast the roles. Whoever could play the role, got the role. Young
Nefertiti is a white girl and
adult Nefertiti is a coloured woman. We could not find a young male
Akhnaton, so we cast a young woman in his role, and Gary
Green is adult Akhnaton.”
Phillipe, originally from
Belgium, lives in Gordon’s Bay with his wife and five children.
They started in amateur theatre in 2007 in the Playhouse in
Somerset West. He has run the gamut of theatre life acting,
doing stage management, directing, sound and lights, etc.
He says his photographic memory serves him well with lines when he acts, but he derives the most pleasure from directing.
MADS chairwoman Sue Wilkes says the clothes, costumes and props have been carefully researched to be authentic.
MADS has drawn on the Egyptian Society to help the play, um, walk like an Egyptian, and the
society’s members will have a chance to see the finished
product and the results of their advice breathed to life on
In writing the play, Christie was assisted by her friend, the Egyptologist, Stephen Glanville.
Akhnaton will be staged at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg tomorrow Friday March 13 and
Saturday March 14, at 8pm, and then the following week Thursday March 19, Friday March 20 and Saturday March 21, at 8pm.
On Saturday March 21 there is a 2.30pm performance.
Tickets are R100 through Computicket. To book, visit: https://tickets.computicket.com/event/akhnaton/7133873