Sometimes Fugard wanted to tackle issues
outside of South Africa or South African politics. Some
of the plays themselves were exiles, being produced
outside of South Africa. Not really a period of his work,
more a convenient grouping of plays which don't fit
elsewhere. Fugard says "looking back now over
the thirty-five years that I have been writing I can see
something in the way of a ten year cycle to my work, each
turn of the wheel being marked by the writing of an
aberrant play. There have been three aberrations to date:
Orestes, Dimetos and most recently Pigs".
and still louder, shouted, screamed, whispered
then broken down again into its elementary syllables to
provide a vocabulary for grief
There can be no other possible response"
Fugards Orestes fuses the
Greek tragedy of Clytemnestra with South African
violence. "The young man with the suitcase suggests
he took a suitcase full of dynamite and
petrol, wired to a time fuse, into the Johannesburg
Railway Station and left it beside a bench. It exploded,
killing a young child and severely burning an old woman.
He was caught, tried and executed". The play
was improvised by Fugard and the actors Yvonne Bryceland,
Wilson Dunbar and Val Donald and is mainly mime. Fugard
said that for a long time he wanted to try and make a
valid theatrical experience using methods other than
completed script, set rehearsal period, performance
deadline, etc. etc. and he was given the chance.
Fugard does not provide a script of Orestes but instead
describes it in "A letter to an American
Friend". The premiere was directed by Fugard
in Cape Town with Yvonne Brycleland, Wilson Dunster and
Val Donald. Photo of Yvonne Bryceland in Orestes
from Stephen Gray´s Athol Fugard
"It was built a long
time ago by two slaves and it took them their entire
lifetimes...that wall isn't made of stone. Fear. That's
why it's still there. A monument to man's capacity to
"Once upon a time, there was... a man... who dreamt
he was a horse"
Jeremy Davidson and Tara Franklin under direction of
(Photo Richard Feldman)
A horse has fallen down a well and a girl is
lowered on ropes to rescue it. Fugard´s play uses a bare
stage and a bench to portray the scene, as this Greek
drama begins. And slowly Dimetos falls into the
trap of the forbidden passion for the girl, his
niece. Written as a commission for the Edinburgh
Festival in 1975. Carel Trichard played Dimetos and
Yvonne Bryceland played Sophia. In the London version in
1976 Paul Scofield played Dimetos. Fugard directed.
Fugard´s Dimetos does not come from Greek mythology, but
from the Notebooks of Albert Camus.
A very short one-man
acting/improvisation piece with no dialogue. It was
commissioned for the Kentucky Festival of New American
Plays and performed by Dierk Toporzysek in 1980. A
tramp roots through rubbish finds a drumstick, then a
second. He can make a rhythm with the sticks, and then
with an upturned tin can he has all he needs to rise
above the sounds of the city. He walks towards the city
with his drumsticks ready. A Beckett-like piece but
missing Becketts ability to disorientate the
audience and sharpen their perceptions. Instead,
Fugards piece has the danger in performance of
becoming sentimental. Fugard explains the piece was based
on a tramp he saw in New York who was "very
and seemed to have a
sense of himself As being extravagantly free".
There was an ambitious attempt made to produce The
Drummer on radio.
Lesson from Aloes 1978
"You seem to have a perverse need to dwell on what
is cruel and ugly about this country. Is there nothing
gentle in your world...God might have cursed you
Afrikaners, but not the whole human race"
"There. I've cancelled those years. I'm going to
forget I ever lived them"
"Bitter and hard as I was inside, I felt
"There's nothing you can do to stop a drought, but
bad laws and social injustice are man-made and can be
unmade by men. It's as simple as that. We can make this a
better world to live in".
First performed in 1978 the play was written
in the 1960s. Fugard directed the premiere in
Johannesburg. He would later direct Zakes Mokae and James
Earl Jones in the play.
The play seems to start off
as a domestic drama with husband and wife Piet and Gladys
expecting visitors. We learn Piet´s life was
changed when he joined a political demonstration, but now
he is suspected of being a police informer. The visitor
Steve is an activist but he is giving up his politics to
go into exile. They meet to say goodbye. But Gladys has
her own torments "I've discovered hell for
myself. It might be hard for you to accept Steven, but
you are not the only one who has been hurt. Politics and
black skins don't make the only victims in this
Fugard told actors "Piet
and Steve are victims of a system they have tried to
resist, something man-made, whereas Gladys is God's
victim" (from Bare Stage). Fugard says
"Aloes [a type of plant] are distinguished above all
else for their inordinate capacity for survival in the
harshest of possible environments".
The photo is from
the Finborough Production 2019 directed by Janet Sizman with Dawid
Minnaar and Janine Ulfane (Gladys) shown. The image is from
The Road to Mecca 1984
"everything else has
all but been damned out of existence. It's obvious where
you Afrikaners get your ideas of God from... as merciless
as the religion they preach around here."
An eccentric sculptress has
created her own Mecca. But other people want her to
conform. A powerful three actor play by
Fugard. Fugard says "My hidden agenda in
writing that play was an attempt to understand the
genius, nature and consequences of a creative
energy...The Miss Helen...is actually a self portrait. It
was only after I had written the play that I realised
what I had been trying to do". Fugard directs
the premiere in Yale, USA. He would later direct Yvonne
Bryceland as Miss Helen and himself as Marius.
The play is based on sculptress,
Helen Martin who lived in Nieu Bethesda, where Fugard
lives. He saw but never met her.
The top photo is from loper.co. Click on the image
for more excellent photos.
The first act of the play is
too wordy, and unwisely a character says "coming here is like stepping
into the middle of a Chekhov play". It gets a laugh, but whereas
Chekhov can use seemingly casual conversation to convey deeper truths,
Fugard resorts to characters telling too many anecdotes about other
people (the coloured woman and baby, the schoolteacher). And the
dialogue does clog, with a Camus quote also being brought in. But
in perfect stagecraft the third character, Marius, appears as the first
act ends. This changes the dynamics and in the interval people
wonder how he will changes things.
And the second act has some of
Fugard's best writing as the three characters are opened up more.
Marius is revealed to be well-meaning (Fugard subtly avoids a cliché of
the harsh dominating character we expect), but Marius cannot see beyond
his own beliefs and misses an opportunity for true happiness.
The last two photos are of Yvonne Bryceland in the film of the play
A Place with the pigs: a personal
"Every day of my
self-imposed banishment from the human race"
"I've forgotten what human nature is really like.
Compassion and forgiveness? I stand as much chance of
getting that from the mob out there as I do from these
"While I was chasing it...and once I nearly had
it...while I was chasing it, it was as if something
inside me, something that had been dead for a long, long
time, slowly came back to life again"
Another rare play set outside
South Africa. A Russian deserter hides for decades
with the pigs. His only relief is a midnight walk
disguised as a woman. Fugard says the play was a
metaphor for his own alcoholism. But the play spells out
every message and the despair is unremitting: a butterfly
enters the pig-prison, but this symbol of freedom is
eaten by a pig. Even the midnight walk seems weak
with the main character (played in the premiere by
Fugard) in drag. It can be staged with puppets for
pigs (and butterflies) or using mime. The premiere
was at Yale in USA with Fugard directing and starring.
The play was badly received by critics.
Fugard says "I know [it] is a very good play,
possibly one of my best, and will one day confound the
critics who did not think so. But it was not seemingly
about South Africa and that was enormously disconcerting
both to the critics and the audiences".
Michael Fitzgerald as Pavel and JarosLawa Michalewska
as Praskovya in The Globe Theatre Group production,
directed by Michael Vale.
Athol Fugard and Suzanne
Shepherd in the 1987 world premiere.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein from