A Lesson From Aloes by Athol Fugard. The Finborough Theatre, London SW10. 3*** William Russell

by Athol Fugard
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 23 March 2019/
Tues – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357851.

Review: William Russell 5 March.
A worth while revival of a celebrated play

Last staged 35 years ago this 1978 work by Fugard, who is by any standards a major dramatist, is showing its years rather badly. It was seen as a masterpiece at one time but this is a South Africa, familiar when it was first seen as a pariah state where apartheid was at its height, that is long gone, no matter what it is like today, or how the rainbow nation has turned out not as it promised.
In a shabby suburb of Port Elizabeth Piet (Dawid Minnaar), a retired bus driver, and his wife Gladys (Janine Ulfane), a nervous wreck of a little housebody clearly not over some kind of mental collapse, are getting ready to welcome an old friend and his family to dinner. She is sometimes up, sometimes down. He is an irritating man who quotes from great works and whose hobby – this is leadenly symbolic – is to collect aloes, a plant of the veldt which flourishes in hostile environment in various forms. It takes ages to discover that the friend, Steve (David Rubin) has just been released from prison. He and Piet were once part of the anti Apartheid movement but someone was an informer and Steve, who is not white but mixed race, went to prison. The informer was, of course, Piet, which is why they are shunned in retirement by their former friends and Steve, who turns up in Act Two, comes alone and not with his wife and family. It should be moving, it should make one reflect on the cost of fighting against a wicked regime, the effect betrayal has on past friendships, and since evil regimes still flourish it should all be terribly relevant to the present. But somehow, in spite of the firm hand of director Janet Suzman, who undeniably knew this world, and the efforts of a cast working frantically to resuscitate it, it proves a dreary and predictable wait for something to happen. Plays, all works of art, can have a life span – some are for eternity, some are for the moment and this, for me at least, is among the latter.
A Lesson From Aloes is a stone dead play which may flicker into life on the page, but no longer lives on stage – and I don’t think it is the fault of production or cast. It is a worthwhile, handsomely set revival and Fugard’s status as a major playwright is not in doubt. His Blood Knot also set in Port Elizabeth is about to open at the Orange Tree in Richmond and may well have fared better.
Piet: Dawid Minnaar.
Gladys: Janine Ulfane.
Steve: David Rubin.
Director: Janet Suzman.
Set & Costume Designer: Norman Coates.
Lighting Designer: Mannie Manim.
Sound Designer: Rachael Murray.
Production Photography: Alixandra Fazzina.

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