Master Harold…And The Boys

Athol Fugard

Salisbury Playhouse

(2004)

Review by Kevin Catchpole

As South Africa goes to the polls, Caroline Leslie's warm-hearted production for Salisbury Playhouse of Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys reminds us with much feeling that racism is a question of attitude as much as law.

A timely revival, too, while sports pages reel from the ex-gratia remarks of an English football commentator who forgets to put his earlier practice (of introducing black players into British soccer) into his casual talk.

Ironically in view of the above, Master Harold traces 90 minutes of human play in an empty café in 1950s Port Elizabeth. Heavy rain has wiped out business for the day - and created a vacuum into which are drawn the essences of prejudices the two characters surely regarded as banished long since.

The juvenility of the schoolboy Hally is inclined to be masked by the arrogance of his social position and the difficulty in finding actors of the right age. Simon Quaterman manages here, with the help of frequent references to homework and soda drinks, to keep this firmly in our minds. The effect is to point the indignity of head waiter, Sam, played with great reverence by Okon Jones, who has appeared in the West End productions A Chorus Line and Chicago since his debut with the National Youth Theatre in Zigger Zagger.

Sam, a creation of no particular time or place, lives in this performance to smoke out his young master's own inbred misery at the discovery that a black waiter inspires feelings of respect where his own father fails.

In Emily Couper's detailed realisation of St George's Tearooms, time stands still. Chad Shepherd provides a breath of the world outside as Willie - though I find it hard to believe that black South Africans would dance to anything less than strict tempo, not even if the singer was one of their own!

The production runs until 15 May in the Salberg Studio.