Hitting the Big Time - In Conversation on Master Harold and the Boys

Leaving behindg 'Master Harold ... and the boys'

Garalt Macliam in frank conversation with Athol Fugard

"The time has nearly come now for me to cut the umbilical cord with 'Master Harold' and let it look after itself. London is the last major decision I have to make about it. The question in my mind is which production will best serve the play there: the South African one or the American one.

"I'm deliberately leaving my thinking wide open on that. The reason being that the three South Africans haven't yet had the opportunity to grow with their parts as the Americans have been able to do. I'm leaving it until the end of April when I have to return to America to deal with some contractual details.

"Immediately before I go, I'll take a hard look at the work being done by the actors here and compare it with what's happening in the other production, which will be playing in Carolina by the time I get there. Then I'll decide.
"There was the opportunity, as was the case with A Lesson from Aloes, of going to the National Theatre. But because of the repertory system there, it seems a bit pointless this time around. The actors would only be able to give two performances a week and be idle the rest of the time.

"The producers have decided to go straight into the West End. We haven't chosen a theatre yet, but it would have to be relatively intimate. The Lyceum, by Broadway standards, is relatively intimate and it's a 900 seater. The Fortune might have been right.

"I've been hearing very good things about our indigenous theatre: shows such as Paul Slabolepszy's Saturday Night at the Palace and Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon's Woza Albert. These are things which have happened while I was away and it's wonderful to learn about them.

"It's amazing that writers in this country aren't given more credit and recognition for their work. The Dalro Awards honour everybody, actors, actresses and directors, except the man who actually conceives and writes what the public come to see. (Athol Fugard excludes the Amstel Award because only plays which have not yet been produced are eligible for this prize.)

"Thank God South African theatre and its playwrights are growing anyway, but this situation still must be rectified. Recognition in the form of some award must happen and it should happen soon. The fact that there is no award for the playwright in South African theatre is wrong, it's disgraceful.

"Despite that, the theatre-going situation here is much healthier than overseas and that's because the prices are well within reach of theatre-goers. Nicolas Nickleby comes to New York. What are the seat prices? The answer is 100 dollars each.

"London's West End and Broadway are both part of the tourist business and they get away with those prices. Off-Broadway, the seats are less expensive and consequently more realistic. It allows the ordinary person to go to the theatre without it being a crippling expenditure.

"Coming back to the situation in South Africa: it is now becoming necessary to increase prices in order that actors can be paid what they deserve. The performer needs to be dealt into the commercial world on the same sort of basis as everybody else. It needs changing. It's not healthy when stars can get whatever they ask and the rest live at a subsistence level; if not below it. Should they not pick up ad work, radio and the odd piece of TV, they starve.

"The American understanding of South African humour in 'Master Harold' was quite marvellous; it was really gratifying. I checked after six preview performances at the Market Theatre and it was wonderful to see that there was more than 80 percent of common response. What New York laughed at, so did Johannesburg. This is in the words, not merely the visual humour.

"The areas where South Africans differed in appreciation, by virtue of being South African, were where the situations are unique to this country.

"In this play, there are moments of silence in the theatre which I've never had with my other works. Incredible... [...]

- The Star, Wednesday, April 20, 1983

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"The moral responsibility of the artist is to keep alive a total awareness of the realities of our time."
Athol Fugard
Athol Fugard
© Sunday Times


Resistance through theatre - Reviews as sources

In this lesson plan, learners will be asked to think about how theatre can speak to people in powerful ways that are not always possible through other media. By reading reviews and assessments of Fugard's plays, learners will appreciate the kind of impact that they had on audiences living under apartheid.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
A selection of images from Athol Fugard’s life and plays.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Get a closer view of the memorial to Athol Fugard in Port Elizabeth’s St George’s Park
Athol Fugard and John Kani
Athol Fugard discusses his relationship with Sam Semela, the inspiration behind the protagonist of ’Master Harold’ … and the boys, with Dali Tambo