The Monday Interview Athol Fugard Essay

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The Monday Interview: Athol Fugard Essay, Research Paper ‘I’m a storyteller, that’s all’Athol Fugard jumps up from his table to introduce himself and his partner Marianne. They are still eating. I say I’ll leave them to their lunch. Ach no, he says, nonononono, don’t be so silly. He throws back the food and ushers me towards him, and Marianne discreetly removes herself to the next table. He tells me how great it is to be back in London, and how exciting it is to have a new play on the road and, yes, how confused he was when apartheid was dismantled. His energy is awesome. Of course, the end of apartheid was the realisation of all he had dreamed for in his beloved country. But at the same time South Africa’s great white liberal playwright suffered a profound

identity crisis. “All of my life had been spent in the shadow of apartheid. And when South Africa went through its extraordinary change in 1994, it was like having spent a lifetime in a boxing ring with an opponent and suddenly finding yourself in that boxing ring with nobody else and realising you’ve to take the gloves off and get out, and reinvent yourself.” He went on the radio and announced that he would probably be South Africa’s first literary redundancy. Since then, he’s had a rethink. Now he says that the new complicated South Africa needs more vigilance than ever before. So he’s still in a job. But Fugard, 69, says he’s still unsure whether he’s up to the challenge. “You know, it would have been fun if it had arrived at 40, but when you’re limping

along on crutches into your twilight and you suddenly have this one thrown at you…” Crutches are a recurring image in his work, and in his life. He’s sitting in the cafe at London’s Tricycle Theatre, gesticulating fiercely with those tiny, proud hands. I can’t take my eyes off that face – part Old Testament prophet, part club bouncer. He talks and talks and talks, chomping on peanuts at the same time. And as he talks, the peanut shards explode in the air before dissolving in his beard. But he’s too absorbed in his stories, his history, his country, to notice them. “What do I do now? That’s it: what do I do now? That is the question and I’m trying to answer that question or explore the challenge of that question by way of the three post-apartheid plays I’ve

written.” More peanuts, more explosions, more beard damage. Fugard is here to direct the British premiere of his new work, Sorrows and Rejoicings. He is known as the great liberal playwright; the man who dramatised apartheid. But his plays were always far removed from agitprop. The language was too rich, the characters too ambiguous, to accommodate political agendas. Yes, plays such as The Island, Master Harold… and the Boys, and My Children! My Africa! were set against a backdrop of South Africa’s race war, but more importantly they explored how people are gradually, desperately forced to confront their truths. They are confessional plays. In Master Harold, Hally is a 17-year-old pompous white aspiring writer with liberal pretensions and plans to educate one of the black

servants, Sam. Sam is also a surrogate father to Hally, who confides to him that his real father is a drunk, disabled loser. Hally is so full of self-loathing at what he has admitted that he turns on Sam and spits in his face. In My Children! My Africa! an ageing black liberal teacher confronts his protege – a brilliant black militant who has turned his back on education in favour of revolution. In Hello and Goodbye a forlorn son who has never quite managed to leave home takes up his crippled father’s crutches when he dies and assumes his identity. His writing is soaked in guilt – not simply liberal guilt, but the messier guilts that accompany the secrets and lies of everyday life. “I’m always in disguise in one form or another in my plays,” Fugard says. Often barely