A Lesson From Aloes
Finborough Theatre Spring 2019
Athol Fugard’s A Lesson From Aloes, given a fine clear production at the Finborough, takes us to the cruelties of 1960’s South Africa where the regime officially categorizes people by race and uses extraordinary measures to control the population.
Piet Bezuidenhout (Dawid Minnaar) is sitting outside his home trying to identify an aloe plant. How things are named is important for Piet, who even has a sign nearby naming the house Xanadu, reflecting his yearning for an idyllic world. But he and his wife Gladys (Janine Ulfane) are clearly uneasy.
They are due to have a dinner party for Piet's friend and comrade Steve who, with his family, is coming to say goodbye before leaving for England.
These are their first visitors in a long time. Gladys says that 'it's hard sometimes to believe there is a world out there full of other people.'
Her fragile mental health is still suffering the blow of a police raid which confiscated her diaries, and led to her spending time in hospital. Later in the play she points out to Steve that 'Politics and black skin don’t make the only victims in this country.'
All this could make for a bleak evening for the audience but Piet brings the play to life with his uplifting account of working as a bus driver in an area designated as 'coloured' during a bus boycott that so inspired him, he gave up the job and helped organise the action. That was where he met Steve.
David Rubin plays the part of Steve with a fantastic energy. This is a character just released from jail, full of guilt at telling the police under torture about the activists and now, convinced the struggle has been defeated, leaving the country
However Piet takes a more patient view of their prospects, referring to the lesson of the aloe plant that can endure long periods in an arid desert area, ready to grow stronger when the draught ends.
Dawid Minnaar gives a solid performance as the character of Piet, a difficult part to play given his gentle patience with his wife's illness, his refusal to really discuss what happened to Steve or really even to defend himself against unfair suspicions of comrades that he might be an informer, something which has led to them avoiding him.
The show is a slow burner in the first half but later really takes off. It has a hopeful message for those who have to endure difficult political times. There are always things that can be done says Piet 'to make this world a better place.'
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Review - A Lesson From Aloes - Finborough Theatre 2019