I had the privilege of seeing master playwright and actor, Athol Fugard in action at the Market Theatre the other day. Sitting among the very young audience, I overhead two young students of drama wondering what this ‘legend’ of SA drama would be like. I found myself being grateful to be old enough to have been part of the great Fugard era when I was their age and I first witnessed Fugard in action as Johnny in Hello & Goodbye in the City Hall of PE. As a young enthusiaist that was the first time I was turned on to the power of a play by a South African and about South Africans. This began my love affair with the potential of South African stories told in our theatres and around the world. Clearly, so did the rest of the world because Fugard was snapped up and his work celebrated around the world. I was excited by the idea that another generation of young South Africans was about to witness arguably our countries greatest playwright in action…’live’ and in person!
So, to The Shadow of the Hummingbird…which has so much of what is now recognizably Fugard’s great insight to life and love, still filled with the ‘angstful’ tousle between the shadow and the light. To watch Fugard, almost playing himself as Oupa and to share in his inner reflections on reaching the winter of his life was heart-warming. But dont expect the powerful drama of Master Harold & the boys or the agony of Milly in People are lIving there! This work is lighter, more heart warming! If you seek high drama you wont find it. The review in the New York Times by CHarles Isherwood, said the following:
“The Shadow of the Hummingbird,” is but a minor addition to his oeuvre, but its wistful message, that it is more important to savor experience than to analyze it, is hard to argue with. Art itself is but a shadow on a wall, a reflection of life that nevertheless has its own reality. To lose yourself in the imagined universe of a play is perhaps one way of retaining a sliver of the innocence Mr. Fugard’s Oupa so cherishes.”
I was in awe, partly because of this mastercraftsman’s place in my heart. I loved his performance as Oupa, I loved his insights and poetry, and yet I couldn’t help wondering if this play had been submitted for production without the name Fugard attached, would it still have been staged in this era of instant gratification and high drama? For me it was nonetheless an almost ‘holy’ evening spent in the presence of one of our greatest yet humblest theatre icons.