Athol Fugard’s latest masterpiece comes home.

Posted: April 12, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , , , ,

  ©Astrid Stark

First published in Business Day, The Weekender, 11 April ’09

Athol Fugard’s first ever sequel has opened at Cape Town’s Baxter theatre and the performances do not disappoint.  

Coming Home picks up the story of Veronica Jonkers as we left her in Valley Song; a young, optimistic dreamer on her way to Cape Town to realise her childhood dreams of becoming a famous singer. However, as soon as the naive small town girl arrives in the big city, she befriends the wrong crowd and her life starts to spiral out of control.

Soon Veronica’s dreams are shattered and she finds herself broken-hearted, single and pregnant.  Worst of all, she carries within her a shameful and deadly secret. 

Veronica decides to change her life.  She returns to her childhood home in Nieu-Bethesda and moves into her oupa’s old home, determined to plant the seeds of a new and beautiful life for her young boy, Mannetjie.  Her son is eager to learn and he displays a natural affinity for words.  However, Mannetjie’s own wounds must first heal, and he must overcome his own prejudices and mistrust. 

Fugard’s beautiful dialogue gently flows and lingers, and with a few carefully placed words he paints the warm textures of the Karoo landscape.   

Saul Radomsky’s surreal set design evokes nostalgia for a time when everything was deliberate and every object had a function.  The old gas stove, oupa’s tin cup, and an old cast iron bed with a saggy bottom speaks of simple uncomplicated world.  The colours used by Radomsky are soft, restrained: salmon pink, aquamarine, sun-bleached purple; all colours of a coral reef, stolen and planted in the heart of the Karoo, adding to the dreamlike quality of the production.



Photo by:  Mark Freeborough

Photo by: Mark Freeborough




Coming home tackles the painful and challenging aspects of living in a modern South Africa, with sensitivity and even a delicate humour;  gently promoting the value of friendship and the wisdom of our elders – without making it feel like a hefty sermon.

Fugard offers hope throughout the difficult themes and Veronica’s story of broken dreams, wasted opportunities and return conjures up long suppressed memories, ghosts, and a dear childhood.   

 Bronwyn van Graan, winner of the 2008 Naledi Award for Best Supporting actress in Shirley, plays Veronica Jonkers’ character with great understanding; drawing feelings of compassion and understanding from the audience with an apparent ease.  The role of her childhood friend, Alfred, is played by David Isaacs, better known for his comical performance in Joe Barber.

For Isaacs, the character of Alfred is a big departure from his usual comical repertoire.   Alfred is a simple, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, with a lifelong crush on Veronica.  Alfred’s painfully naive character borders on being mentally challenged, and at first the audience – used to Joe Barber’s shenanigans – laugh at Isaacs interpretation, until they realise that it is not meant to  humorous.  This has to be challenging for Isaacs to handle, but he does pull it off and soon he is the darling of the performance.  

Terry Hector plays a small but poignant role as the ghost of Veronica’s oupa.    The role of the her young boy, Mannetjie, is played with a natural charm by the 11-year old Devon and Walbrugh.  Cinga Vanda is his understudy and plays only on certain evenings.  There is a beautiful scene where oupa and Mannetjie breach two entire generations with the help of a handful of Mannetjies collection of new words, and oupa’s  pumpkin seeds which lives in a faded tin.

Fugard’s writing may, at first, appear straight to the point, but as the play unfolds and the secrets bubble to the top; worlds collide and characters and the consequences of their actions unfold before our eyes like a complex origami design.

Coming Home is directed by Ross Devenish who has directed three Fugard scripts, also staring Fugard himself.  Devenish says he relishes in his return to the theatre and in being able to be dealing directly with the drama.

The performance premiered recently at the Long Wharf Theatre in New York.  Van Graan and Isaacs sat in on a rehearsal, giving them an opportunity to give advice on their characters.  However it is hard to imagine an all American cast performing Fugard’s South African characters that are drenched in our colourful history and shaped by our unique geography.

Coming Home is showing at The Baxter Theatre until 25 April.

Astrid Stark



©Astrid Stark

First published in The Business Day: The Weekender, 11 September 2009


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