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Sunday, August 2, 2009


(Matthew Venturas as Hally, Loyiso MacDonald as Willie and Thabani Sibiya as Sam)

Lovers of good drama should not miss this production. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Last year, director Shaun Gray presented an excellent production of Paul Slabolepszy’s Saturday Night at the Palace at Seabrooke’s Theatre at Durban High School. This year, his sure directorial hand is behind another classic play, Athol Fugard’s Master Harold …and the Boys, which is currently running at the Catalina Theatre on Wilson’s Wharf with performances for schools as well as for the public.

The story deals with a 17 year-old white schoolboy, Harold “Hally”, who spends much time with Sam and Willie, his mother’s two black servants in her Tea-Room in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. Sam is Hally’s best friend and confidant with whom he has had a strong bonding relationship for most of his life.

Set in 1950, the year apartheid was enforced; the beginning of the play sees the trio amiably discussing everything from words like “magnitude” to historical figures that have made an impact on the world. Hally battles with his homework, he has to produce a 500 word composition focusing on an annual cultural event. A ballroom dancer himself, Sam suggests the hugely popular annual championships held in Port Elizabeth. What follows is Fugard’s clever comparison of ballroom dancing to the global theme of universal humanity where deliberate “collisions” are avoided. People don’t “bump” into each other on the dance floor – it’s “a world where accidents don’t happen.”

However, things take a complicated turn when Hally is plunged into gloom. His alcoholic father is coming out of hospital, an act which will undoubtedly disturb the peace of the home he shares with his mother. The stress pushes him to the point where he flares at Sam - the white “baas” bigotry of his father rising within him to irrevocably slash the trusting relationship between them. Intensely moving, the play is a stark reminder of the apartheid regime which contaminated so many lives.

Initially banned from production in South Africa, Master Harold …and the Boys was first produced at the Yale Repertory Theater in the US in 1982. It is based on a personal incident in Fugard’s youth, written in an attempt to atone for his behaviour at the time.

The play requires strong maturity from the actor playing Sam, an upright man whose search for knowledge is insatiable while offering Hally the benefit of his own wisdom and global vision. Tall and imposing, Thabani Sibiya gives a very strong and moving performance, especially in the scenes following Hally’s outburst.

Matthew Venturas gives an equally good performance as Hally, presenting a confused youth faced with an untenable future and hitting out at Sam as the first available punching bag. He handles this complex role with confidence and energy but more projection is required from him as the Catalina is notorious for its acoustic problems.

As Willie, Loyiso MacDonald is endearing, amusing and vulnerable – even when shining his shoes! He’s caught up in the confrontation between Sam and Harold and is helpless to save the situation.

Considering that they weren’t even born when the play was first produced and were small children when South Africa won its democracy, all three actors put in very credible and passionate performances. All kudos to Shaun Gray for another fine production.

Mervyn McMurtry has produced a well-designed set which, although a little too pristine for a struggling Tea-Room, makes optimum use of the wide stage of the Catalina. Adorned with advertising posters of the period and featuring a suitably garish jukebox, it offers enough acting space for the amusing sequences where Sam tries to teach Willie the finer points of ballroom dancing.

I would strongly urge lovers of good drama to see this production.

Master Harold …and the Boys runs until August 16. Tickets R65 (concessions R50 and scholars group booking R40pp - one free teacher per group of 10 pupils). Shows are 11h00 weekdays for school groups. Public performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 20h00, Saturdays at 17h00 and 20h00 and Sundays at 14h00 and 18h00.

To book call Thandeka on 031 305 6889 or email Catalina Theatre tickets now available online at or at or /

The Catalina Theatre is still functioning thanks to support from Rainbow Chicken, National Arts Council and Ethekwini Municipality. – Caroline Smart