Master Harold… and the boys

5th October 2019

By: Sabrina Lemer

One hour and forty minutes no intermission (Yes)

“Master Harold and the boys” written by Athol Fugard, is a semi-autobiographical story that is considered one of those classic and extremely important works about South Africa and apartheid. The play was originally banned from being shown in South Africa at the time. It premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre before making its move on to Broadway.  

The play covers family, race, class division and the state of South Africa in the 1950s. With our current political climate, upside down topsy turvy views on race, class, and immigration to name a few I was curious to see if the play was as powerful as it must have been when it was first viewed in the 1980s when it ran in New York City. 

Though short, just under two hours the play can drag as it is very dialogue driven. You can get lost in some of the stories told by Hally “ Master Harold” and the boys. The set doesn’t change but the cafe soon becomes a metaphor for the entire world and its mixed bag of ideals and realities. Attitudes, and ideas are shared. The use of the rain to punctuate the action that follows is brilliant.

Those stories, however, are important, because they help to establish the paternal like bond between the characters. Sam and Willie’s playful way’s with Hally soon turn as the line between who is the master and who is the boy becomes all too clear. Using their allegory of ballroom dancing as a way of describing the state of South Africa in the 1950’s is a beautiful parallel vision to what could be.  

The play has this quiet and steady buildup that keeps your attention until you start to connect the importance of the earlier stories and musings between Sam, Willie, and Hally who sees himself as progressive all while being a self-centered teen whose racism is just imbedded within his character.  The underlying racist learned attitudes that start to come out as the play progresses feels almost too modern. We can tell ourselves that these views and attitudes are in the past. However, every time you open a paper or go online and read the news the horrifying racially charged events of the day take over. It’s quite scary when you stop and think about it.  A lot of food for thought here. As much as things change, they also seem the same.  Perfect start to some interesting dinner conversation…

It is at the National Theatre until December 17. You can buy your tickets HERE.

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