Temple Productions at the Jermyn Street Theatre
Playland is a two-hander set on New Year's Eve 1990. This was a critical point in South African history and Fugard uses two characters, one Black and one White, to symbolise the years of Apartheid and the hope that is developing in the new South Africa.
Under Mark Graham's direction, Samson Khumalo as the religious Martinus and Mark Wakeling as Gideon slowly circle around each other like boxers waiting to deliver the killer punch. Ultimately, each floors the other but after a cathartic spell of soul cleansing they, like their country, emerge stronger for the experience.
Like so much of the playwright's work, this is set in the Karoo. Katy McPhee's beautifully designed set combines a desert backdrop with a clown's head showing that the fair has come to town. Playland is an opportunity for the white ex-army officer and the black handyman to get together and talk about life and death. It soon becomes clear that for each of them, the latter is far more significant.
The generally threatening tone of the relationship is lightened by a great and very funny scene as Gideon fast forwards through four hours of fun at the fair in a couple of minutes. This encapsulates the seediness of the touring Playland. It also represents the dying supremacy of the Whites in South Africa as 1990 approaches.
After this interlude, things get really serious. It is time to confess their sins. Both men are murderers, one in a crime of passion, the other brutally in a guerrilla war during which he took part in several massacres. The worst of these in which his unit killed and buried 27 SWAPO guerrillas is chillingly told. Fugard is strong on visually descriptive writing. The images of bodies like cabbages seem all too apt.
Eventually the two men seemingly reach a closure both with each other and perhaps even more significantly with themselves. Clearly their stories are significant as ciphers for their peoples who were also trying to achieve Truth and Reconciliation at that time.
This piece is a little slight and on occasions the sentiments can seem a little trite but even so the subject matter is very important and remains so as cultural differences are still apparent in South Africa and Zimbabwe today. With good performances from both Samson Khumalo and Mark Wakeling, this thought provoking play is one that anyone interested in politics and the issue of race should see.
Playing until 20th July.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher