A past that continues to haunt us

A past that continues to haunt us

DIRECTOR: Albert Maritz
CAST: Albert Pretorius and Mbulelo Grootboom
VENUE: The Fugard Studio until February 15
REVIEW: Peter Tromp

To many of us, 1989 will feel like a lifetime ago, and perhaps not even that significant of a year. As ‘Playland’ reminds us, there was plentiful crappy music and bad fashion to go around, things that now have nostalgic value and hipster cache. Of course apartheid was still in full swing then, but as the background revellers in the fictional theme park of the play, evoked through background sounds, demonstrate, for many it was just playing out in the background, in amongst their carousing and the small dramas of their days.

To the two characters of the Athol Fugard play (translated into Afrikaans by Saartjie Botha) apartheid is very much something that has affected the predominant part of their psyches. One of the characters, Gideon le Roux (Albert Pretorius), an ex-national serviceman who has been struggling to acclimatise to everyday life since the atrocities he observed while on duty in Namibia, is desperate to lose himself in the tacky amusements of the day, while Martinus Zoeloe (Mbulelo Grootboom), a night-watchman at the amusement park, realises that he’ll never truly be able to take part in the carefree distractions Playland. Instead he takes solace in the justice God has in store for people who give little thought to the oppressions that exist just beyond their manicured realities.

They’re both archetypical Fugard characters; ones that exist on the fringes of society. They are the kind of outsiders who sees things more clearly than those that have been co-opted by a system. These two scarred, lonely souls, whose lives have been almost gleefully ruined by that social system, but who exist on the opposite sides of the divide apartheid tried to convince everyone was natural, connect on New Year’s Eve in harrowing fashion, when secrets come spilling out and they have no choice but to confide in and even rely on one another.

I could see many folks denigrating ‘Playland’ as yet another apartheid era play that is just not relevant anymore, but to me the desperation with which both characters try and cling to their humanity in the face of the skewed orthodoxy of the day is something that will always be relevant.

Social systems will always benefit some, and ostracize (or try and eliminate) others. You could say the same thing for the neo-liberal “utopia” we exist in today.
Even if you are sick to death of being reminded of South Africa’s shameful past, the humanistic power of this piece of theatre remains undiminished and is definitely worth sitting through. Director Albert Maritz has produced something elegant, but almost savagely cathartic at the same time and it makes for a night out you won’t soon forget. And trust me when I say you do not want to miss Pretorius’s performance.

* Book through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554, or at Computicket.com.