Athol Fugard port elizabeth plays


Some of Fugard´s most famous work. Set in Port Elizabeth the plays feature families torn apart by poverty and apartheid.

Blood Knot 


 The Blood Knot 1961
 rewritten as Blood Knot 1987

Fugard says this was the first play in which he discovered his voice. It was his first international success with Zakes Mokae (left) and Fugard (right) playing the two roles in 1961 in Johannesburg.  The play (The Blood Knot) originally ran for 3-4 hours though the rewrite (renamed Blood Knot) brought it to a manageable size.  A blood knot is a fishing knot to join two separate ropes, but the knot in the play is the two characters' common blood.

Athol Fugard and Zakes Mokae in Blood Knot

Two brothers, both are ethnically black but one could pass for white. The "white" one has written a letter to a white girl who will visit him. Gradually the fear of her visit takes over. The two are a metaphor for South Africa and the separate races.  Funniest line is when Morris gets to read his favourite passage from the bible: "Bed time. My turn to chose the reading tonight. Matthew. I like Matthew. And Asa begat Josephat, and Josephat begat Joram, and Joram begat Ozias, and Ozias begat Joatham, and Joatham begat Achaz, and Achgaz begat…".

"... Blood Knot sometimes echoes with echoes, and speaks in the voices of Genet, Pinter and even the John Steinbeck of Of Mice and Men.  But Atholl (sic) Fugard, a white South African, shuns preachments and never overestimates the human equation.  His symbols are the kind that laugh, cry and bleed" (from In The Prison of Color, Time Magazinem 13 March 1964).

Blood Knot by Athol Fugard
Chris Edwards and Leopold Lowe in Patricia R. Floyd version for Stamford Theatre Works

The rewrite consists of small topical updates ("How much does that cost/ Two and six" becomes "How much does that cost/ twenty five cents") but the major change is the cutting of almost all monologues, considerably reducing the running time and moving the dynamics of the play towards dialogue.  Fugard says "it was in this room late at night that the sight of my brother...who was fast asleep in the bed, gave me the seminal image for The Bloodknot" (sic).

Blood Knot by Fugard

Blood Knot as performed in Iran, looking very much like Beckett.  Thanks to Iman Afsharian for the photo.

Athol Fugard Hello and Goodbye Hello and Goodbye 1965

"No change...I'm a fraction older"
 "You don't recognise me at all? / I admit I haven't had a really good look yet. I start with the feet and work up"

Athol Fugard Hello and Goodbye
Shaleen Surtie-Richards and Royston Stoffels in the Afrikaans translation Hallo en Koebaai

Johnnie is alone on stage desperately lonely  He is surrounded by squalor, like a junk shop.   His loneliness is disrupted by a woman, Hester his sister who he hasn't seen for more than a decade. The brother talks of looking after their crippled and dying father and the Hester wants to know what happened to the money his father would receive as compensation when he was injured.  There is no money, the father is actually long dead, and the brother and sister have no love to share. The sister leaves after her short visit (hence the title) and Johnnie's real inheritance are the crutches of his father. A life unfulfilled.

Athol Fugard Hello and Goodbye
image from Trafalgar Studios programme 2007

Fugard played Johnnie and Molly Seftel played Hester in the original production in Johannesburg in 1965. Barney Simon directed. Other actors playing the roles include Martin Sheen and Ben Kingsley and Janet Suzman (left). When Fugard directed in London in 1974 Bill Flynn and Yvonne Brycleland starred.  The room comes from Fugard´s memories of his mother "my mother was a compulsive hoarder, and all the rubbish that she hadn't been able to throw away...ended up in cardboard boxes and suitcases and bags and biscuit tins under beds and on top of already jam packed wardrobes and chests of drawers."  The crutches come from Fugard´s father "on my last afternoon he hobbled in on his crutches...his sobbing misery, my tears and the sense of betrayal and desertion- another pivotal image in Hello and Goodbye".

The Last Bus 1969 and Friday's Bread on Monday 1970

The Last Bus is a workshop piece with John Kani, Winston Ntshona and The Sepent Players. Fugard directs. In the Notebooks Fugard says "Johnnie and Winston tried to introduce a psychology, an attitude, the Ja, my baas [Yes boss] of the lowest coloured as opposed to the I am a man dignity... language a bold mixture of Afrikaans, English and Xhosa...vivid and real". 

Friday's Bread on Monday is also a workshop piece, again directed by Fugard and with Kani and Ntshona. There is a lot of mime in this piece. Rob Amato (in Stephen Gray´s book) says "the impact... left the largely white audience stunned. Although it dealt with was not a cry for sympathy. This is where its great strength lay".

Boesman and Lena  Boesman and Lena 1969

"Ja, thats the way it is. When I want to cry, you want to laugh"
"In the main, it is a long tale of suffering and despair, of travelling from place to place as an outcast"
"Leave your bruises on the earth"

Athol Fugard Boesman and Lena Yvonne Bryceland

Boesman and Lena are husband and wife, homeless, so walking with all their possessions. The only person they meet is the silent Outa, in even worse condition than they are. But Outa will be a catalyst for Lena.  Mary Benson in Bare Stage quotes Fugard "I've dredged up a trio of real derelicts this time. I'm called Boesman, the woman is Lena and the third character is something of an indeterminate verminous and dying age called Outa". Benson says she realised Fugard the play had its roots in his relationship with his wife Sheila.  Fugard directed the premiere at Rhodes University with the cast of himself, Yvonne Bryceland and Glynn Day. He would later direct Zakes Mokae taking over his role.

Danny Glover in Boesman and Lena  Angela Bassett in Boesman and Lena

Fgard Boesman and Lena

Master Harold and the boys Master Harold...and the Boys 1982

"Right, so much for the stage directions. Now the characters."

Athol Fugard Master Harold... and the Boys
Conrad Kemp, George Seremba and Joe Vera in Bairbre Ni Chaoimh production for Helix Original

Based on a childhood incident Fugard demonstrates the power of apartheid to corrupt.  The boys are the black servants but who is really master and who the boys?  The premiere was in Yale Theatre America with Fugard directing Danny Glover, Zakes Mokae and Zeljko Ivanek. Fugard would later direct John Kani and James Earl Jones in the play.  The play was rated number 50 on the Royal National Theatre's most significant plays of the twentieth century, equal with Betrayal by Harold Pinter, Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward and Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill.

Critic Richard Gilman says "Master Harold"... and the boys had a limited run in its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre, but it is certain to come to New York City.  One hopes that in its reincarnation it will have the same actors who played Willie and Sam ay Yale.  Zakes Mokae as Sam and Danny Glover as Willie are extraordinarily good: they press for nothing, underscore no emotions, but ride easily along the swell of the textual wave or, in keeping with one of the plot elements move like supremely gifted ballroom dancers.  Zeljko Ivanek as Hally and Fugard in his capacity as director are distinctly inferior to them: Ivanek is much too brittle, too given to abrupt jagged moments, and Fugard exhibits an often shaky directorial hand.  Nothing fatal here, but there's room for improvement. (Nation, 1 May 1982, reproduced in The Drama is Coming Now: The Theatre Criticism of Richard Gilman, Yale University Press, 2005).

Master Harold and the boys

Master Harold and the Boys

Photos from the 2010 film.

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