Dan Sandman

42: Township Plays by Athold Fugard

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 16/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Township Plays by Athol FugardAthol Fugard (1932 – ) is South Africa’s foremost playwright. This book is a collection of five plays he wrote in collaboration with black actors from the townships. The plays were all performed during apartheid, and draw on the everyday experiences of ordinary people. In modern day South Africa, how relevant are these vital and angry plays?

In No-good Friday (1958), a man in his thirties called Willie makes a stand against a township gangster called Shark. Willie starts out studying for a BA, but cannot escape the violence on his doorstep. Throughout, the drama is nail-biting, and we are left riding on the edge of our seats. Nongogo (1959) is about a woman called Queeny, who runs a shebeen (drinking establishment). Queeny is offered a more honest life by the young salesman Johnny, but their plans are scuppered by her Iago-like friend Sam. The third play The Coat (1967), is an acting exercise involving a dead man’s over-garment. The last two plays, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973), directly attack the actions of the government: the first on the issue of racially defined identity cards; the second on the detention of political prisoners on Robben Island.

This is an excellent book. It includes a brilliant introduction by Dennis Walder, and a brief preface by the playwright himself. But to restate the question I asked earlier, are these plays still important today? Yes, I believe so – and I think they will still be read into the twenty-second century. This is drama that will stand the test of time: thrilling, exciting, politically aware drama. The good sort of stuff that will get you thinking and talking when you come out of the playhouse. If you think that sounds like something you’d like to do, then read this book.

Or form a drama company.


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