Today’s been a busy day! After lunch I went to watch Hello And Goodbye, a play by the legendary South African playwright, Athol Fugard, directed by Birga Thomas.
This is the first time I’ve seen a rendition of this play, and I think Suzi Gehr and Wesley Figaji did an amazing job. Their acting was poignant, and although I don’t think they managed to reach their characters’ points of hysteria in a realistic manner, for the most part they were truly believable and moving. The non-present character in the play, their father, becomes as much a weighty presence on us as it does on the actors. I keep expecting him to walk in, through those four bricks which symbolise a door.
The directing and stage management was great too – the set was detailed, accurate to the period, but without being extravagant or unnecessary. South Africa is capable of creating great theatre with little props, and while this production was by no means a poor theatre one, it still proved that theatre does not need pyrotecnics and hydroaulically-operated stage platforms to be good. Clearly some of the wannabe-Las Vegas shows in Durban and Jo’burg haven’t quite grasped that yet. In my opinion, director Birga Thomas struck the right balance between using enough props and set to create the atmosphere, and leaving others out to allow the audience to fill the stage with their imagination.
The story itself is intricate, and in part autobiographical – as most of Fugard’s plays are. A white railway worker is left crippled from an explosion, leaving him bedridden and God-clingy, with two children and a wife. This is a story about demotivated and diminished poor whites during Apartheid – stories like these are often downplayed because “they never had it as rough as black people did.” Sure, white people were never discriminated against legally. But a white cripple who does not receive state compensation after he loses a leg in a dynamite explosion – a white woman who is forced into prostitution so she can make enough money to get by – these are still people with dreams and hearts and lives. And stories, which need to be told. Through works such as Hello and Goodbye, these individuals are given voices. I was incredibly grateful to be able to hear them.