Theatre review: Die Kaptein se Tier

Posted: February 10, 2011 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

A roaring production

First published in the Sunday Independent, January 2011

By Astrid Stark

Athol Fugard’s work is back at the theatre which has been named after him.  It seems as if the dust has finally settled after a rather capricious end of 2010 for The Fugard, during which its resident repertory company, Isango Portobello, was expelled, followed by the resignation of Mannie Manim as the theatre’s Executive Director.  The effervescent Daniel Galloway has been appointed as the new General Manager of The Fugard, and he is clearly embracing the opportunity to revitalise a charming theatre, and to get on with the business of presenting great productions.

Die Kaptein se Tier/The Captain’s Tiger is part of the 2011 Suidoosterfees programme line-up and Antjie Krog translated the play into Afrikaans for this occasion.  We know Krog as a consummate South African poet, academic and writer, and her translation of Fugard’s words doesn’t disappoint. Krog translated Fugard’s paragraphs into poems and rhythmically soothing narratives that conjure up the most fantastical imagery in the mind’s eye, and which harmonizes beautifully with the action on stage.  English surtitles are clearly displayed for those not so familiar with Afrikaans. 

The story is a romantic, adventurous and stirring account of the young Athol Fugard, played by Neels van Jaarsveldt, who tries to write his first novel on board the SS Graigaur.  The young Fugard has as his muse, a photograph of his mother, played by Erica Wessels.  Owen Sejake, Donkeyman, plays the ship’s mechanic, and an eventual good friend to Fugard.  Graham Weir is ‘the author’, portraying Fugard as an old man.

The young Fugard’s heart is filled with a desire to write. He ponders about his mother and decides to write a story around her from the very day the photo was taken. And so he goes into what is said to be an autobiographical journey of Fugard as writer, and child to a wayward father and courageous mother.  The fun really starts when his muse refuses to recreate the action that he pens down, and some fantastical dialogue ensues between mother and son. Fugard cleverly uses the young man’s desire to write what he thinks is his  mother’s life story, and the ability of the muse to magically speak and tell her own story, to illustrate the stark misunderstanding that can exist between a mother and child.  Our parents are not always who we think they are. They have their own desires and dreams.  We often impose on them emotions and actions upon them as we see fit.     There is almost an Oedipus moment between mother and son which sees Fugard gently, sensually and with great hilarity toy with the young Fugard’s emotions and character.  Donkeyman shines a light on some of the young Fugard’s undeveloped qualities, such as still being a virgin, and developing a writer’s endurance.  Van Jaarsveldt and Wessel’s elocution and virtually flawless delivery of the prosaic text reminds you of their absolute professionalism and passion for their craft.  Both are Fleur du Cap award winners.

Van Jaarsveldt’s portrayal of a young man consumed by the desire to write, and being on a journey of self-discovery, and the need to reconcile with his past, is powerful and masterfully executed.  Sejake as always has a strong stage presence and even if his Donkeyman character doesn’t say much, we quickly emphasize with this gentle giant.   Weir as the older Fugard certainly looks the part and he delivers a professional performance.  He does stumble a little bit over some of the denser Afrikaans text, which serves as a reminder that Fugard is after all English, which is so easy to be forgotten as the play feels authentic in Afrikaans.

The action plays out on the ship which lighting designer, Fahiem Bardien, set designer, Dicky Longhurst and Leopold Senekal, through the clever use of shadows and light, gauzy screens and drifting smoke, magically recreated.  The stage design lends a dreamlike, magical quality to the production. The light reflecting from water reminds you that they are drifting endlessly on the ocean.

Die Kaptein se Tier is a magical journey through the mind and life of one of our most prolific theatre writers.  And it’s translated with obvious care and consummate skill by Antjie Krog. However, the play itself is not heavy and does not feel as if it is consumed by its own brilliance.  Janice Honeyman’s directions ebbs and flows like our own emotions and the acting feels contained, professional, yet somehow spontaneous.  Die Kaptein se Tier is a great start to the 2011 theatre season and comes highly recommended.

Tickets for Die Kaptein se Tier can be booked at the Fugard Theatre – which now has reserved seating – or by calling the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or book online at no extra charge at

Die Kaptein se Tier pic 2 Neels van Jaarsveld. Graham Weir and Owen Sejake in Die Kapt


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