THEATRE – Master Harold…. and the Boys – 4.5K



By Peter Maddern

When Master Harold starts, there is seemingly nothing more than wholesomeness about the relationship between Hallie (Benji Riggs), an ordinarily cocky white high schooler and his two black friends, Sam (Shedrick Yarkpai) and Willie (William Mude).

Together they are in Hallie’s parents’ tea rooms; he attending to his homework and they preparing the tables. However, there is a dark undercurrent in the emotional wellbeing of the student that gets displayed when news comes from his mother that his father intends on coming home from hospital. His condition, one infected stump of a leg, brings out the most vicious and controlling poison from the otherwise affable kid.

Around this ill-disciplined and impetuous performance, Sam plays the nurturer, the groomer, the father Hallie is otherwise missing while Willie muses about his upcoming dance competition, the highlight for the nearby black township that brings the people together and imbues them with purpose.

This is South Africa of 1950, with apartheid both legally and emotionally rumbling along unhindered and as such in modern Australia the language that flows when things turn nasty sears one like a butcher’s bandsaw; its force of delivery will make you shudder.

This play stands or falls on the player cast as Hallie and young Benji Riggs rises to the occasion supremely. His Afrikaner accent is thick, convincing and never misses a beat. His carry of emotion from the flippant to the feisty is similarly flawless. Given he just a year 12 student himself one can only hope we see much more of him in the years to come – what a stunning performance.



Shedrick Yarkpai is somewhat, theatrically as well by virtue of his role, subservient to the young tyro until the final 15 minutes or so but then he assumes the mantle and delivers some powerful messages to the young man who has by then lost the plot.

His approach will remind one of the great Mandela himself but recall this play was first performed in the early 1980’s, well before that man’s humanity was put on show.

William Mude has, in fact, the most gargantuan of tasks as he was hauled in to play Willie less than ten days ago after the original actor simply went AWOL. It is to his credit that the intervening period seems to have been spent more on movement and delivery than memory and although carrying the script, Mude delivers a solid performance. Full credit to him for taking on the challenge for it would have been the greatest pity if this production had not gone ahead.

Rob Croser’s direction must be commended as well. There can be no doubt that his and his young charge’s courage and dare have been let loose in tandem in this play –  they may have crashed and burned as one but as it has happened if we have observed the limits of their flight together then it certainly was not obvious.

Master Harold can seem like a play from another age but we all need to be wary of true racism and sustain a society that has the freedom to fight back against its pernicious reach. Master Harold also presents a consummate performance from a young man the name of whom any theatre goer needs to pencil in on their must see list.

Kryztoff Rating   4.5K

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