THE SHADOW OF THE HUMMINGBIRD
WRITTEN BY, DIRECTED AND STARRING: Athol Fugard
WRITER OF INTRODUCTORY SCENE AND CO-DIRECTOR: Paula Fourie
WITH Marviantoz Baker as Bobba
VENUE: Barney Simon Theatre at the Market
UNTIL August 16
YOU HAVE to pinch yourself to make sure it’s not a dream. It is that extraordinary and magical. Athol Fugard (pictured), regarded as one of the world’s genius playwrights, is on stage and sharing the story of his/Oupa’s life.
It doesn’t really matter whose life exactly, but it is about someone reaching a certain age and reflecting both backwards and forwards as he reaches and hopes to resurrect dreams that he let go.
“It’s about love,” says Fugard.
But it’s also about that final gaze which is within.
“They haven’t lost their sight, they’ve turned the gaze within,” is how he quotes another writer as he searches for his spectacles which, when found, are described as “spectacular spectacles!” That’s how one feels at 82 when sight is suddenly returned.
And that is what this work is about. It is about a man who finds himself in his pajamas on the floor, wanting to stand up and not being as fleet-footed as in the past. It is someone who sits down with relief after finding one of the notebooks he was so desperately trying to find. He is a man reflecting on his life, looking at what is left, what he can still achieve and, perhaps most importantly, what he wants.
Where are those dreams, those shadows we all play with before the innocence of youth flits off and we are left with the hard choices that turn our lives into what Oupa describes harshly as “my monumentally boring life”? Now he is left with what is left of his life and what he wants to do with it.
Typically Fugard, he grabs old age from a place that’s unexpected and gloriously illuminating. He filters as much through his text as is possible with nuggets for those who might pick it up like the unexpected lines of a Koos du Plessis song… holderste bolder want die kis wag op die solder, from the aptly titled Skadu Teen Die Muur by one of this country’s best folk poets.
More than anything, it is listening to this giant of a man tell us a tale that sounds like his own and yet, there’s that universality that’s always so much part of his work. Many will see their father or grand-father in those check pajamas as he struggles to reach out and hold onto the shadow of humming bird.
It’s almost like a tone poem with Fugard capturing the nuances of the language which he always does so masterfully, but also ruminating about ageing in all its shades – from the pleasure of playing with a grand-child to what feels like the illusion of love. It’s a quiet work and how it penetrates will depend on those watching.