Friday, 18 October 2019

Master Harold...and the Boys, The National Theatre, The South Bank, Central London

Image from the National Theatre web site
Set in 1950 in apartheid South Africa, Master Harold... and the Boys is a powerful play that unpicks the contradictions and cruelty of a society in which people aren't perceived to be equal. While often light on the surface, Athol Fugard's incisive script explores big themes, dissecting everything from the qualities we look for in great people to the subtle nuances that can undermine respect and friendship and the nature of beauty and conflict.  Although the action never leaves a park cafe and the set is unchanging, the wider world casts a dark shadow over the three characters wiling away a wet afternoon. Across the 100 minutes of the play, a figure we never see - an alcoholic cripple - exercises an extraordinary amount of influence over the events on stage.
Images from the National Theatre web site


This production of Fugard's play features a compelling performance from Anson Boon as he expertly walks a dramatic tightrope, making the white teenager Hally both likeable and loathsome at the same time. He rolls his tongue around the South African accent, articulating every syllable uttered by his erudite, yet immature, character. His co-stars, Lucian Msamati and Hammed Animashaun also give memorable performances, adeptly portraying how black servants had to tiptoe around their white masters. Whenever they get a free moment, they practise ballroom dancing, trying to create something beautiful in an ugly world. As Sammie, Msamati exudes a graceful dignity, while Animashaun expertly gives the audience flashes of the myriad frustrations of the unfulfilled Willie. The almost perpetual rearrangements of the chairs and the table in the cafe convey both the tedium of servitude and the way in which Sam and Willie are boxed in by the oppression of apartheid. This is a play that should leave you with a deep impression of how discrimination can erode humanity. 8/10