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Of another plague, sometimes forgotten

I saw The Fugard Theatre’s excellent production of Master Harold and the Boys just before lockdown. I meant to write about it, but I just couldn’t seem to corral my thoughts and feelings into words and sentences, they were more like shouts, groans and howls.

Then a new plague threatened to overwhelm us all and we retreated to our homes in the suburbs and shantytowns.

It is interesting to see how many of the boundaries, real and imagined, that still define us, particularly now in our home-bound separation, were drawn or dreamt up under that other plague, apartheid.

The run of Greg Karvellas’ new production of Master Harold and the Boys was cut short by the coronavirus but The Fugard, a wonderful local theatre bearing the name of the play’s author, the one and only Athol, is streaming it free on their website until April 20

Kai Luke Brummer as Hally, Siya Mayola as Willie and Desmond Dube as Sam. Photos: Claude Barnardo

(NEWSFLASH! That has now been extended to May 20 for Friends of the Fugard).

Master Harold and the Boys is set in Port Elizabeth in 1950, just two years after apartheid made racism the law of the land. We quickly see how much damage was done to everyone involved, the victims and the so-called victors. Everything and everyone is infected, poisoned.

This searing drama – with Desmond Dube as Sam, Kai Luke Brummer as Hally and Siya Mayola as Willie – is about a white boy and two black men who work for his Mum. At times their shared longing for different lives seems to strip away the context of a broken society where the boys are the men … if they are white.

Even in the most human moments we are aware of the sinister presence of a warped power dynamic. Another sinister, unseen presence is Hally’s drunk and disabled father, a recurring image that seems to underscore the fact that even the winners were losers.

This extraordinary play is essential viewing for South Africans. Watch it here

Talking of plagues, I have thought of re-reading Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brook’s beautiful but heart-breaking novel inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England that was devastated in the plague of 1666.

If I could bear to read it again, I know that the story of death, disease, faith and superstition would have a different relevance today. Also, there is hope too as the year of catastrophe in the book turns into an annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders”.

I mention it here because it made me want to howl, like that terrible fateful moment in Master Harold and the Boys.

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11th April 2020 10:38 am

Thanks so much Siobhan. I think it is a very pertinent play right now with the very real and tragic boundaries between rich and poor in this country. I will try to muster up the courage to watch it.


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