The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage

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The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage is a play by Athol Fugard (1932-).

Usually referred to simply as The Captain's Tiger

The original text

The 65-year-old playwright takes a close look at the 20-year-old Fugard, the young writer who dropped out of the University of Cape Town, hitch-hiked through Africa, found a job on a tramp steamer in Port Sudan, made friends with a black man for the first time and wrestled with the creative process while starting to write his first novel, inspired by his mother. At the time of the opening production of The Captain’s Tiger, the playwright commented, “The change in this country has now given me the freedom to look back and to tell those stories which earlier would have been too personal or too self-indulgent. Previously there was a much more urgent agenda that determined my writing. Now I can return to personal experiences”. [Van Heerden (2008)][1]. p. 126.

It's 1952 on an old cargo ship somewhere on the Red Sea. A young man is beginning a "great adventure": a trip away from home, a voyage around the world, a journey to manhood, and a writer's odyssey. This is the setting for Athol Fugard's dramatic examination of his life as an artist shaped both by the family that raised him and the horrors of Apartheid in his war torn South African homeland. Subtitled a "Memoir for the Stage", the play is told both from the point of view of the twenty-year-old author who was the captain's tiger (a glorified personal servant to the ship's captain) and the author as his current-day self. This is a fascinating voyage - a writer's pilgrimage, a whole painful process we are privy to. We witness his coming of age through author monologues, re-creations of onboard conversations, letters written to his mother, imagined discourse, and dreams. Fugard has created a personal dramatic structure moving from present to past, from reality to reverie. One of the author's most imaginative works, Fugard has created a world with imagery that is visual, visceral, and poetic. (books/google)

First performed in 1999, and the text published by Wits University Press, Johannesburg in the same year, and by the Theatre Communications Group in 1999.

Translations and adaptations

Translated into Afrikaans by Antjie Krog as Die Kaptein se Tier in 2011.

Performance history

South African performances

1997: The play had its World première in The Arena at the State Theatre in Pretoria with Athol Fugard, Owen Sejake and Jennifer Steyn, directed by Fugard and Susan Hilferty.

2011: Performed in Afrikaans as Die Kaptein se Tier as part of the Suidoosterfees Suidooster Fees in the Fugard Theatre 19 to 29 January 2011, with the run extended until 5 February. Directed by Janice Honeyman, with Graham Weir, Neels van Jaarsveld, Owen Sejake and Erica Wessels, Lighting design Mannie Manim, set and costume design Dicky Longhurst.

International performances

1997: Staged in July and August 1997 at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, USA with Fugard, Felicity Jones and Tony Todd.

1998: Staged in May 1998 in the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, USA with Athol Fugard, Owen Sejake and Jennifer Steyn, directed by Fugard and Susan Hilferty.

1999: Staged in January 1999 in the Manhattan Theater Club in New York, directed by Fugard and Susan Hilferty, with Athol Fugard, Tony Todd and Felicity Jones.


Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Johann van Heerden 2008. Theatre in a new democracy. Some major trends in South African theatre from 1994 to 2003. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch. p. 126.

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