FUGARD WORK: Mbulelo Grootboom and Albert Pretorius in Playland.

DIRECTOR: Alibert Maritz
CAST: Mbulelo Grootboom, Albert Pretorius
VENUE: The Fugard Theatre
UNTIL: February 15
RATING: ****


ALBERT Pretorius gives a searing performance in Athol Fugard’s Playland. He gets under the skin of character Gideon le Roux, a former soldier who protests he is not bosbef**, but evidence suggests otherwise.

He physically gives voice to the character’s mental anguish, spewing forth not only verbal suffering, but literally crawling around in the dirt, at one point even vomiting.

Newly translated into Afrikaans by Saartjie Botha and directed by Albert Maritz, the play gains an immediacy because of the language, which tempers the chronological setting of 1990.

It is now a period piece – the language and how the men interact are carefully calculated to show you what was and therein it shows you how life is very different now.

The English surtitles gives you Le Roux’s grammatically poor English, but of course the character is much more comfortable in his native, and colloquially correct, Afrikaans. On the other hand, the night watchman, Marthinus Zoeloe (Grootboom), gives us academically perfect Afrikaans, perfectly meshing with Grootboom’s poised character (don’t let the actors’ ages fool you, the night watchman is a much older character than the former soldier).

We know now this land of play is about to disappear, this tacky little world of neon lights and pop music and total escapism – Koos Marais and Garin Hauptfleish have created a garish world of twirling lights and exposed stones – so it is the disappearing world of white privilege.

Still, the issues of guilt and reconciliation are just as relevant now as they were back in 1993 (when it was first performed in English) since neither traumitised character has fully grappled with what they have done. While each acknowledges they have committed crimes, neither can acknowledge the humanity in their victims and cannot move on to forgive themselves when they do.

The play is set in the Karoo on the cusp of 1990 as an inebriated le Roux wanders around a travelling fairground and latches on to Zoeloe. It is New Year’s Eve and everyone is making resolutions to enter the new decade with a fresh attitude, but le Roux cannot shake his dark thoughts about having killed people in the Border War with (now) Namibia.

At first he affects a jocular manner around Zoeloe, but once the night watchman invokes his Christianity, citing Judgement Day as the ultimate punishment, le Roux starts to loose his cool.

Recognising Zoeloe has his own dark secret, le Roux taunts and baits him, trying to provoke a violent response. This is where contemporary thoughts on reconciliation remind us Playland is set in 1990 – this black man tries not to engage, stoically trying to get away from the mlungu’s anger, but you have to wonder how Fugard would have written the encounter if it was set in the now.