Athol Fugard breaks my heart with his writing every time. “Master Harold” … and the boys is no exception.
Fugard was born in South Africa in 1932 and his plays tackle apartheid and racism and look at power relationships between people.
Master Harold is a three-hander. The characters are two older black men, who are servants, and a 17-year-old white boy, who is their master. It’s a play that’s based on Fugard’s childhood memories and he’s unflinching in his portrayal of his younger, careless self.
You might question the almost saintly wisdom of Sam, the older servant and father figure to Hally (which, incidentally, was the name Fugard was known by in his early years) – it’s a little bit Driving Miss Daisy – but it still works.
Because of race, a young boy holds all the power over two men who, if age had anything to do with it, should both be giving him the orders. Instead Hally lords it over Sam and Willy, almost unconsciously. That’s the heartbreaking part of it. You get that he’s a good kid who’s been wounded by his parents, but society has programmed him to be a master, to treat the dark skinned man who’s been his only friend as if he’s a child and a fool.
I’m really interested in the way that Fugard has depicted an incident that scarred him for life so fearlessly. He doesn’t turn his child self into a hero or give himself excuses for his behaviour. It’s an honest and very moving one-act play.
Read more about Athol Fugard.