Tuesday, October 01, 2019
"Master Harold" ...and the boys @ Lyttelton Theatre...
Set in 1950s South Africa the action takes place in a single room, St George's Park Tea Room, Port Elizabeth.
It's a long rainy afternoon and black employees Sam (Lucian Msamati) and Willie (Hammed Animashaun) are practising their steps for the finals of the ballroom dancing championships. Young, white cafe owner's son Hally arrives home from school to hide out. The two men have been unlikely best friends to Hally his whole life but as this is apartheid era South Africa: he is "Master Harold" and they are just "the boys."
Playwright Athol Fugard's play is semi-autobiographical and explores the nature of friendships and how people can hurt the ones they love.
The three characters seem to get on well and laugh and share jokes and stories. But as the play moves to its conclusion things take a darker turn.
After Sam gently admonishes Hally for saying disrespectful things about his father, Hally lashes out. The moment is shocking, and heart-breaking, too. Hally has crossed a line. The moment illustrates, too, how it is often our inner demons that stoke our disrespect — or worse — for others.
With this dramatic outburst it seems that the kind but callow Hally has suddenly and inadvertently taken the first steps to becoming a man. But the question remains: Having grown up absorbing the racism that is endemic in his culture — its omnipresence is subtly symbolized by the rain we hear pelting down throughout the play — what kind of man can he become?