theatre in South Africa
Theatre in the making. Zakes Mokae
and Athol Fugard at the beginning of their careers in apartheid South Africa.
Together they tackled original plays by Fugard as well as modern classics such
as Beckett and Pinter. International success also encouraged Mokae to escape apartheid and move to the London stage.
Athol Fugard No-Good Friday 1958
Fugard´s first significant play. Performed in Johannesburg with Fugard as Higgins and Zakes Mokae
as the thug. For a performance to a segregated white audience Fugard (the
only white role) was replaced by a black actor. "Mokae struck Fugard as ideally suitable
for a thug, a small role he gave him in No-Good Friday, in which he
plays one of Shark's sidekicks. Fugard recalls a
growing sense of Mokae ´being a very special person´,
which led him to write the role of Blackie, Queeny´s
crippled and violent hanger-on in Nongogo, especially for
him" from Dennis Walder´s Athol Fugard.
In Russell Vandenbroucke´s Truths the Hand Can Touch, he
states that Mokae was to play Shark, but had to leave to
attend a funeral, and when he came back was given the
role of the thug. Sheila Fugard in Twentieth
Century Literature says "Zakes Mokae, who had just
turned twenty, and hardly ever spoke, was Athol's choice
for the role of "first thug." Athol sensed the
acting potential of this young man, who had been a
protege of Father Trevor Huddleston, an English cleric
who was a political activist in Sophiatown. Zakes had
been a member of Father Huddleston's jazz group. He was
withdrawn, yet behind his shy grin he was able to project
an undertone of menace. No-Good Friday was the beginning
of Zakes's career".
Athol Fugard Nongogo 1959
Athol Fugard´s early play was performed in 1959 in Johannesburg with Zakes Mokae as Blackie.
Nongogo is slang for a cheap prostitute.
Mokae says "I met Athol in the 50s...I
was playing the saxophone in those days. Somehow we got
around to doing some plays just for the fun of it and
because we believed in it. We... did plays about the
ghetto- Nongogo and No-Good Friday.
The actors were not only acting, but also finding the
props, building the scenery, doing whatever needed to be
done. I think it was there that Athol developed his style
of writing for small casts in one location. He wouldn't
write for a lot of people because half the time they
weren't going to show up".
Mary Benson in Twentieth Century Literature says "Fugard cast Mokae as a township thug in
No-Good Friday, and then wrote the role of Blackie,
Queenie's crippled and violent hanger-on in Nongogo,
especially for him, and this, Fugard said, "was the
start of one of the really rich working relationships of
my life". Photo left of rehearsal of
Nongogo from Stephen Gray´s "Athol Fugard",
Photo above of Fugard rehearsing Mokae in Nongogo from
Walder´s "Athol Fugard".
Harold Pinter The Dumb Waiter 1961
Harold Pinter's play, as part of the Rehearsal Room days in 1961 with Athol Fugard.
Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot
Beckett's most famous play directed by Athol Fugard.
Samuel Beckett Krapp's Last Tape
Beckett's solo piece as an ageing Krapp is confronted with his
younger self. Also directed by Athol Fugard.
Athol Fugard The Blood Knot 1961
Fugard says this was the first play, in 1961, in which he
discovered his voice. It was his first international
success with himself and Zakes Mokae playing the two
roles in 1961. 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. Zakes´ character is called Zak (almost his own name).
The play lasted for 3-4 hours and when Mokae and Fugard
forgot the lines they would ad lib during performances.
Mokae and Fugard. The photo is by William B. Carter from
J.A. Brown Angel Feathers on the Roof
Performed in Johannesburg and then London in 1962. Mokae directed.
Confirmation of these details and any other information is welcome.