by Athol Fugard.
New Perspectives Tour to 8 March 2015.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 February at Mumford Theatre Cambridge.
Fine revival catches an historic moment in human terms.
It often seems Athol Fugard is happiest as a playwright when dealing with the relationship and conflict between two characters. This is the apparently little world of 1993’s Playland, set over the night of New Year’s Eve in a downbeat South African funfair which, without the coloured lights, would resemble the prison camps of apartheid in Hyemi Shin’s design.
It’s here Ben Cutler’s White reveller Gideon, back from fighting SWAPO forces from Namibia, seems drawn to Black security guard Martinus, who has his own past violence to contain. There’s a lot of tramping in shallow dramatic water during the first half, establishing contrasts between Gideon’s volatile revels and Martinus the controlled guard, with their different faiths in science and religion.
It’s when Playland boss Barney’s voice finally kicks the desultory revels into being through the loudspeaker prominently centre-stage, with equally desultory tones – running the place is clearly no joy for him – and the fireworks noisily zoom that Gideon, for whom the bangs and cracks recall his recent battle days, flings himself instinctively to the floor as his repressed fear and hate come out.
If names were soon firmly established, the separation between these two, their lack of sympathy for each other’s particular suffering, their anger, is expressed through use, instead, of numbers – particularly Martinus’ 6 for the commandment he broke, Gideon’s 27 for his biggest kill of SWAPO.
Such anger and division might be found in many a playwright. Fugard’s achievement is to find a way back, or beyond, as a New Year dawns and the men can see each other properly.
Written as Black and White South African leaders were finally negotiating apartheid into history, Playland is anything but playful. Yet it grips in its human understanding, especially played with the moving (in both senses) conviction of Jack McNamara’s revival for New Perspectives theatre company, which is strongly played by Cutler, with a restless energy driven by the need to explain while searching-out conflict, and Carr, in whose Martinus silence is strength and the ability to surmount past oppression and loss a sign of hope for any new year.
Martinus Zoeloe: David Carr.
Gideon Le Roux: Ben Cutler.
Barney’s voice: Jack McNamara.
Director: Jack McNamara.
Designer: Hyemi Shin.
Lighting: Azusa Ono.
Sound: Adam P McReady (Poetical Machines Ltd.).