By Phoebe Jordaan Schoeman
The lights came on, the speakers buzzed, the stage wall received paint, costumes were dusted off, props precisely placed – the rehearsal of lines echoing on the empty walls of the auditorium…For the first time in more than a year, the curtains of the Sutcliffe theatre opened on 13 May for one evening of theatre.
This year’s annual production was of Athol Fugard’s autobiographical play, “‘Master Harold’ … and the boys”. The audience was transported to a tearoom in St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth in the 1950s where they witnessed the defining moment in Hally’s life. After receiving the news that his alcoholic father will return home, Hally vents his anger and pain by viciously insulting Willy and spitting in the face of his surrogate father, Sam Semela one rainy afternoon. This moment irrevocably changes Hally’s life, and births Fugard’s career as a writer of conscience and social change. 72 years later, this moment is recreated and relived on our Sutcliffe Theatre stage.
Due to COVID regulations, we could only allow staff and a select few students to witness this production. The performances were of an excellent standard; it was moving, honest and endearing and moved several members of the audience to tears. Mikka’s intelligent and sensitive performance of Hally revealed the suffering of a young man in pain, who then projects his anguish in a fit of rage onto Sam. Mayenzeke’s interpretation and depiction of Sam demonstrated maturity beyond his years. He transformed into a dignified, older gentleman who tolerated and stomached Hally’s teenage angst with fatherly love and compassion, all the while subtly playing the difficult subtext of his own pain and of being trapped under the oppressive Apartheid regime. Willy is a younger man whose own anger at the political situation is pulpable. Lwanda’s honest and raw performance gave the audience insight into the hearts and minds of the disempowered people of the 1950s. His vulnerability and sensitivity in the crisis moment of the play was profoundly moving.
Clifton is renowned for its stellar casts; these performances are some of the best yet.
Directing any production and bringing the vision to life is challenging under normal circumstances. When one adds COVID-19, the wearing of masks and social distancing to the rehearsal process, it was, at times, extremely difficult and daunting. Working with a stellar cast and production team alleviated some of the difficulty and stress. I cannot thank them enough for doing this play justice. It is part of our collective history and needed to be handled with extreme care, which they did.
A huge thank you to Ms Karlien Erasmus for the beautiful set and the moral support; Mr Shaun McCabe for his excellent organisational skills and determination with getting the rights to video and screen this to the school; Mr Don Fletcher and his amazing team for their patience, passion and energy. Thank you to Mr Knowles and the staff for their support; our wonderful stage manager Eli Daykin and dedicated stagehand Abhay Singh, and last, but definitely not least, my phenomenal cast – Mayenzeke Faya , Mikka Spurrett and Lwanda Gumede. Thank you for one of the most memorable productions I have ever directed. Thank you for making it so beautiful!