‘Master Harold’…and the Boys

By Athol Fugard
National Theatre
Review by: Lolade D Ajala
Published: Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 12:32pm
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“Master Harold” … and the Boys is like a sweet cocktail that you happily sip on until the potency of the alcohol hits you in this play about loyalty and friendship.

Set during South Africa’s apartheid in 1950, an unlikely friendship is exhibited between Master Harold/Hally, a teenaged white Afrikaan and two Native Afrikaans that his parents have employed as servants. The action takes place on a quiet rainy afternoon in a cafe bar owned by Hally’s mother.

The black employees, Sam (Lucian Msamati) and Willie (Hammed Animashaun) are  practicing and demonstrating their steps for an upcoming ballroom dance championship competition while setting up the bar. Hally (Anson Boon) joins them on his way back from school to hide out, and freely bemoans his studies like any other teenager.

Watching Msamati waltz effortlessly between furniture truly satisfied my desire for a world without collision.

The men indulge in warm memories of Hally’s younger days and how Sam has indirectly been a father figure in Hally’s life. They play a game of naming multiple influential people of their time which I find myself joining in. There is a lot of animation with an equal balance of status between them and I quickly became hooked despite the wordiness of their dialogue.



The friendship seems too good to be true…

There are shifts in status throughout especially when Hally seeks forgotten information from ‘the boys’ about his childhood and non-academic knowledge such as Sam and Willie’s world of ballroom dancing.

Possessing higher status and power due to his privilege of being white, Hally has a very pessimistic view on life but for good reasons. His father, an alcoholic referred to as a cripple, reduces him to servanthood as he often has to clean up after his bodily fluids and massage a stumped leg. He becomes erratically disturbed by the unexpected discharge of his disabled father to return home from hospital. When Sam reprimands Hally for speaking disrespectfully about his father, we are suddenly hit with the full potency of apartheid.

Sam and Willie however are full of hope despite their lowly status in society. Sam has created a world where people dance without colliding with each other. A metaphor for what most blacks longed for during apartheid and even today.

A sweet cocktail that you happily sip on until the potency of the alcohol hits you in this play about loyalty and friendship.

Willie adopts a lifestyle of perfectionism in the hope of being rewarded. We see this in how he addresses Hally in a formal manner and his obsession with getting the dance steps right. All his aggression and perhaps frustration is reserved for his partner who he beats.

Roy Alexander Weise’ direction brings out the dynamics of love and friendship as Athol Fugard intended.

Shelley Maxwell’s movement and choreography breaks up the tension and text.  The three actors are enjoyable to watch:  Animashaun displays the many facets of his traumatised character often in a humorous way.   Stage first-timer Anson Boon’s authentic performance as a naïve but inquisitive young man feeds veteran actor Msamati’s paternal qualities. The casting of these pair is like a match made in heaven.   Watching Msamati waltz effortlessly between furniture truly satisfied my desire for a world without collision.

NEED TO KNOW: ‘Master Harold’… and the Boys is at the National Theatre until 17 Dec 2019 | BOOK TICKETS NOW