Lyttelton, National Theatre, London –until 17 December 2019
Athol Fugard’s semi-autobiographical play is set in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950. It is a wet afternoon – rain patters on a skylight – and Willie (Hammed Animashaun) and Sam (Lucian Msamati) are making the most of the quiet to practice their ballroom dancing steps ahead of an important competition in two weeks.
Hally (Anson Boon) the owner’s son arrives to hang out and do his homework as is his routine. There is an obvious friendship between the three, with familiar banter and games but the spectre of apartheid lurks in the background.
As they reminisce about Hally’s early childhood we learn how Sam has become an influential figure for Hally who has a difficult relationship with his actual father – an amputee with a drink problem. It is a common human flaw to take out anger and hurt on those that are innocent of the cause but under the shadow of apartheid, lashing out takes on a deeper meaning.
When Hally’s fairly content routine and life are shattered by his father’s return home from hospital, resentment and hurt at the personal injustice bubble up and it is shocking.
Hally’s behaviour towards ‘the boys’, despite their friendship, demonstrating the vicious cultural divide and ingrained racism. It shocks more than Sam and Willie. Boon’s is a vivid and complex portrayal; Hally is precocious and cocky but you still see flashes of innocence and the emotional fragility youth.
His anger, horror and raw guilt magnified when pitched against Msamati’s statesman-like and considered Sam. Two words: ‘Master Harold’ perfectly pitched to powerfully disarm.
‘Master Harold’…and the Boys is a subtle and slow build, the pieces of information you are fed don’t quite make sense until you see the whole explosive picture.
It is a play about lessons and devastating loss, about how you can’t dance around injustice and its impact.
It is an hour and 40 minutes without an interval and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
See it at the National Theatre until 17 December.
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