“Master Harold” … and the Boys Review

After a far too lengthy hiatus, your intrepid Cape Town reviewers are back and back with a cracker – the South African classic, “Master Harold” … and the Boys.

Siya Mayola as Willie
Credit: The Fugard Theatre

This one has been a mouth-watering prospect since it was announced last year, especially as it launches the Fugard’s 10 year celebration with a play by the theatre’s legendary namesake, Athol Fugard. With the knowledge that the themes of this 1950-set play remain more relevant than ever, it was with high expectations that your reviewers wound their way up the stairs into the intimate Fugard Studio for the sold-out Sunday matinee.

From the very first chiming notes of Nat King Cole’s “You Are the Cream in My Coffee” to the last word of the sublime cast, we were captivated. No set change, no more than the three characters, nothing particularly flashy – and yet the audience never left the St George’s Park Tea Room for a moment.

Willie (Siya Mayola) introduces us to the ballroom competition that will run as a theme throughout the production – both in light and darker moments. The light-hearted exchanges between himself and Sam (Desmond Dube) about the posh spectacle of the upcoming event provide a startling contrast to the work of cleaning and serving a young boy. Willie’s role as peacemaker also contrasts his violent side that we are introduced to in the first scene. Mention must be given here to Grant van Ster for ensuring the cast was ballroom ready.           

Desmond Dube (L) as Sam and Kai Luke Brummer (R) as Hally
Credit: The Fugard Theatre

When Hally (Kai Luke Brummer) enters the Tea Room after a day at school, the energy changes and immediately the tension starts to build. The constant threat of invincibility of the white man amongst black men in Apartheid South Africa hangs tangibly throughout the play, before finally erupting in a powerful show of emotion at the climax of the 90-minutes. Between these two points we weave through geography and history and stories young and old. While extremely familiar to South Africans, all three characters are deeply complex with themes of family, race, alcoholism and masculinity running powerfully throughout. This complexity was executed with perfect simplicity, the actors slipping through the intricate dialogue without skipping a beat or allowing us to leave the time and place. Brummer’s excellent characterizations are now becoming commonplace, but it was wonderful to see such a stark dramatic turn from Dube, whose usual fare is comedy. Wolf Britz’s set and lighting and Widaad Albertus’ costumes enhanced our enthrallment.

Credit is extended to Greg Karvellas for his exceptional direction of this play and for his choice, as Artistic Director of the Fugard, to air this play at this time. Fugard’s work, as always, remains as timely now as it was when written and his exceptional social commentary radiates through this, perhaps his most well-known play, and keenly displays how deserving he is of having the theatre bear his name. We look forward to the rest of what the Fugard Theatre’s 2020 has to offer!

“Master Harold” … and the boys is on at the Fugard Theatre from February 4 to March 21. Tickets are available from the box office and through the Fugard Theatre’s website.

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