Athol Fugard

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Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard (1932- ) is a South African playwright, novelist, actor, and director.


(1932-). Internationally renowned playwright, author (novel, short stories, poems), actor, director.

Highly regarded nationally and internationally, he was referred to as the best playwright writing in English in the 1980s, and one of the top 100 playwrights of the 20th century. An influential figure in South African theatre for more than 50 years, Fugard created serious and authentic theatre in South Africa with plays that trace the history of the country from the early days of apartheid to the years following the liberation.


Born Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard in Middelburg, Great Karoo, Cape Province, South Africa. His mother (Elizabeth Magdalena Katerina Potgieter) was an Afrikaner and his father (Harold David Lanigan Fugard) was primarily of English, Huguenot, and Irish ancestry. In 1935 his family moved to Port Elizabeth where in 1938 -1945, where Fugard’s mother ran the Jubilee Boarding house and then in 1942 St George’s Park Tearoom.

In 1956 he married actress and novelist Sheila Meiring, and in 1961 his only daughter, Lisa, was born, and in 2003 his grandson, Gavyn.


Fugard attended the Marist Brothers College and the Albert Jackson Primary School.From 1946 -1950 Fugard attended secondary school at Port Elizabeth Technical College, and 1951-53 the University of Cape Town. He has always been an avid reader, and although his first scholarship was for motor mechanics, his true avocation was for philosophy and literature (the works of Faulkner and the existentialists, particularly Camus). Before finishing his degree, Fugard left the university to hitchhike up Africa Perseus Adams and sail around the world, returning in 1954.

General career

While travelling, he worked on a novel, later abandoned (and referred to in The Captains's Tiger). At first he wrote freelance articles for the Evening Post in Port Elizabeth, then worked for the SABC as reporter in Port Elizabeth and later in Seapoint (1955-1957), where he met Sheila Meiring, who introduced him to theatre as a medium in Cape Town. He did some acting, playing Laius in André Huguenet's production of Oedipus Rex (1956) for example, and began his career as playwright by writing for the Circle Players), a group which he and Sheila had started. Among these were them The Cell and Klaas and the Devil, one-act plays that he later destroyed.

In 1958 the Fugards moved to Johannesburg where he worked in the Fordsburg Native Commissioner’s Court. He left that job and became a stage manager for the National Theatre Organisation's Kamertoneel in 1958, working on the first production of N.P. van Wyk Louw's Germanicus, James Ambrose Brown's Seven against the Sun and other plays. The Belgian director Tone Brulin was among those he met at the time and took to see the first production of his play No-Good Friday which he was doing with the Africa Theatre Workshop in Sophiatown. In 1959 he directed the premiére of Nongogo.

England and Belgium

Following this the Fugards went to England, where he tried to get into theatre but failed, then to Belgium, to form the New Africa Theatre Group in Brussels with Tone Brulin, Ian Herbert and Clive Farrel. He acted in Herbert's A Kakamas Greek and directed Brulin's anti-apartheid play De Honden. This was to affect his relationship with the government strongly, an act which, taken in conjunction with his own anti-apartheid writing in the 1960s, led to his passport being taken from him in 1967 and only returned in 1971.

South Africa 1961-

On his return in 1961 he wrote and directed The Blood Knot and in 1962 works for a while at Dorkay House, managing in the Rehearsal Room before returning to Port Elizabeth in November 1963, and to Schoenmakerskop in 1964. In 1963 Fugard where he helped found the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth, working with people like John Kani and Winston Ntshona. They began by performing European classics (La Mandragola/The Cure, Woyzeck, Antigone), but gradually moved on to creating new plays based on their experiences. While still writing his own work, Fugard at this time also experimented with the workshop process in order to create key works such as The Coat (1966), Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973). He was then invited to "create" a work for CAPAB's Theatre Laboratory in Cape Twon, the result being Orestes (1971*), featuring Yvonne Bryceland. This production was the catalyst to the forming of the Space Theatre in Cape Town in 1972, where a number of Fugard plays were to be done, including Die Hodoshe Span (The Island), Dimetos, Drivers, Hello and Goodbye, Nongogo, People are Living There, Sizwe Bansi is Dead and Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act'. Fugard also directed The Terrorists for The Space.

In 1972 the Fugards purchased a house in Nieu Bethesda and in Sardinia Bay, near Port Elizabeth, and Fugard settled down to his most productive period of his career, writing and working with the leading managers, directors and performers in the country, including a lifelong association with people such as Brian Astbury, Barney Simon, Mannie Manim, John Kani, Zakes Mokae, Bill Flynn, Marius Weyers, and many others. In the 1980s, as his reputation grew there, Fugard also began working closely with American producers, and spent time as writer in residence at Yale University. Most of his plays now premiéred in the United States, then opened in South Africa. In 1990 he purchased another house in Nieu Bethesda, it is there that they now live for part of the year, and the other part in Del Mar, California. Above anything else Fugard is a playwright, one with a distinctive and influential style and way of working . Ultilizing basic realism and a simple set, his highly verbal texts focus on a few, clearly delineated and distinctive characters at a critical moment in their lives. The first productions also epitomized Fugard's own theatrical involvement over the years. He would first write the text alone in his study, then go to work on it as director of the first production - often playing one of the roles as well. This pattern would be followed for much of his life. It was only in 2000 that he made a decision to concentrate on playwriting and tell the stories that needed telling.

The Plays

Titles of thirty-three plays are known and twenty-seven have been published. These include The Cell (1956), No-Good Friday (1958), Nongogo (1959),The Bloodknot (1961, revised as Bloodknot 199*), Hello and Goodbye (1965), The Coat (1966), People are Living There (1968), Boesman and Lena (1969), Orestes (1971) Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (1972), Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972), The Island (1973), Dimetos (1975), A Lesson from Aloes (1978), The Drummer (1980), Master Harold… and the boys (1982), A Place with the Pigs (1985) The Road to Mecca (1987*), My Children! My Africa! (1989); Playland (1992), Valley Song (1995), The Captain’s Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage (1997), The Abbess (2000, published South African Theatre Journal 2005), Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001), Exits and Entrances (2004). His prose works include the novel Tsotsi (published 1980, filmed 2004), his Notebooks 1968-77 (edited by Mary Benson, published in 1983), Cousins (a memoir, published 1994), A Karoo Directory (a collection of short stories, 2004)/Karoo Stories (2005).

His first major play, No-Good Friday was staged at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in conjunction with the Union of Southern African Artists. Fugard himself appeared in the play, together with his black cast – Bloke Modisane, Dan Poho, Steve Moloi, Ken Gampu, Gladys Sibisa and Zakes Mokae in 1958. This play was later transferred to the Brooke Theatre for a ‘whites only’ run. He tagged No-Good Friday and his second play, Nongogo, his ‘apprenticeship’ plays. Nongogo was staged for the first time in 1959. His The Blood Knot starring Athol himself and Zakes Mokae opened at the Rhodes Theatre in Grahamstown in July 1961, and then played at the Rehearsal Room at Dorkay House in September. Leon Gluckman then presented it at the Intimate. He wrote Master Harold… and the Boys for which Zakes Mokae won a Tony Award. Ian Bernhardt presented Athol and Molly Seftel in Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye at the Library in 1965. He directed his own Boesman and Lena and People are Living There, both starring Yvonne Bryceland and Glyn Day, for the PACT, CAPAB and Phoenix Players collaboration in 1970. Together with John Kani and Winston Ntshona they formed the Serpent Players who workshopped the play, Sizwe Bansi is Dead, starring Kani and Ntshona. Ian Bernhardt brought it to the Men’s Common Room for the Phoenix Players in November 1972. It was directed by Barney Simon. Together with John Kani and Winston Ntshona he created The Island which was staged at The Space Theatre circa 1973. It travelled abroad and enjoyed many runs locally, including one at the Market Theatre in May 1995. He was closely involved in the formation of The Space Theatre, together with Brian Astbury and Yvonne Bryceland. It opened on 28 May 1972 with Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act also starring himself, Yvonne Bryceland and Christopher Prophet. His Hello and Goodbye was staged at the Inaugural Festival of the 1820 Settlers National Monument in 1974. His The Blood Knot, directed by Benjy Francis and starring Francis and Fats Bookholane was revived and staged at Upstairs at The Market in 1976. He directed a revival of Hello and Goodbye at the Arena in 1977. He wrote the play Dimetos. His A Lesson from Aloes, directed by and starring himself, together with Shelagh Holliday and Marius Weyers enjoyed its world premiere at The Market in November 1978. Barney Simon directed Vivian Solomons and Wilma Stockenström in his Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act at The Market in 1979. His A Lesson from Aloes directed by Ross Devenish and starring Marius Weyers, Shelagh Holliday and Bill Curry was staged at Upstairs at the Market in 1980. Die Bywoners produced the first translation of his play Hello and Goodbye called Hallo en Koebaai, directed by Jan Engelen and starring Schalk Jacobsz and Elna Potgieter at Upstairs at the Market in 1981. His Nongogo with Thoko Ntshinga was staged at the Laager in 1981. His Master Harold … and the Boys starring John Kani, Ramolao Makhene and Duart Sylwain was staged at the Market in March 1983. It was also directed by Fugard who was assisted by Suzanne Shepherd. It was staged at the Wits University Theatre after a countrywide tour in 1983. His The Road to Mecca starring Yvonne Bryceland, Elize Cawood and Louis van Niekerk was staged at the Market in November 1984. He wrote and starred in A Place for the Pigs which was staged at the Market in 1987. His The Blood Knot was directed by Barney Simon for PACT in 1988. He wrote and directed My Children! My Africa! which was staged in 1989. He wrote and directed Playland at the Market in 1992. His Nongogo was staged at the Pieter Roos in 1994. His Hello and Goodbye was staged at Upstairs at the Market in 1994. FUGARD, Harold Athol Lannigan, born 11 June 1932 in Middelburg, CP. Trained in Philosphy & Anthropology at UCT. Master Harold & the Boys, Baxter Company ’83 (Market Theatre Company Production) with John Kani, Duarte Sylwain & Makhen’e Ramolao, Athol (dir). No good Friday (1958). Sorrows and Rejoicings, Athol Fugard, Baxter, 2001. Marius Weyers, Denise Newman, Jennifer Steyn & Amrain Ismail-Essop. Mederegie saam met Athol, Susan Hilferty. Lighting: Mannie Manim. Valley Song. Ivan Abrahams and Quanita Adams. Director: Rubin, Barbara. Design: Curtis, Patrick. Baxter. (2003)

Other plays: My Life (1994), Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001), Exits and Entrances (2004), The Abbess(2006), Booitjie and the Oubaas (2006), Victory (2007), Coming Home (2009), Have you seen Us (2009), The Train Driver (Fugard Theatre, 2010), The Bird Watchers (Fugard Theatre, 2011), The Blue Iris (Fugard Theatre, 2012), Die Laaste Karretjiegraf (Fugard Theatre, 2013), The Shadow of the Hummingbird (Fugard Theatre, 2014) and

Fugard in translation


Despite the fact that many of his characters are Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, and many commentators over the years have emphasized the fact that the characters beg to speak the language, he wrote only one play directly in it, namely Die Laaste Karretjiegraf (Fugard Theatre, 2013). However, a number of his plays have been translated into Afrikaans, including Hello and Goodbye as Hallo en Koebaai, ** ), People are Living There , The Captain's Tiger (as Die Kaptein se Tier, Fugard Theatre, 2011) and Playland (Fugard Theatre, 2014).

Other languages



Fugard has acted in many films, a number of which were made of his own work, and he wrote screenplays for some of them.

The films based on his work include: The Occupation (1963); Mille Miglia (1968, for BBC television); The Guest (1997), Marigolds in August (1980), The Road to Mecca, 'Tsotsi', .

He acted in Peter Brook’s Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979); Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982); and Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields (1984).

Awards and honours

In recognition of this Fugard's work has received numerous awards all over the world, including a number of Tony awards on Broadway and in the Drama Desk Award and Outer Critic’s Circle award for Master Harold …and the boys as Best Play of 1982. The many South African awards over the past years include Three Leaf Awards, Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, and Vita Awards. He has honorary doctorates from a number of Universities, including Yale University, 1983, Wittenberg University, 1992, University of the Witwatersrand, 1993, Brown University, 1995, Princeton University, 1998, University of Stellenbosch (2006). Rhodes University, the University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch, Brown University, Georgetown University and Yale University. In 1998 he received South Africa’s Vita Award for Lifetime Achievement; in 2000 the Fleur du Cap Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2001 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame; and in 2002 the 2005 – The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver - "for his excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre". He is also a fellow of the Royal Society for Literature (London) and a member of the American Academy.

In 2011 he received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre.

Documentary material on Fugard

In 1998 his original papers were deposited at the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana, while an extensive archive can be also consulted at National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown.

There are a large number of interviews and documentary films on Fugard and his work.

[MMcD; TH, SH]


Vandenbroucke, 1986;

Gray, 1982;

Hauptfleisch et al, 1982;

Read, 1991;

Walder, 1984;

Benson, 1997;

Wertheim, 2000;

McDonald, 2012.

Tucker, 1997

Wikipedia [1]

Encyclopaedia Britannica [2]

Go to South African Theatre/Bibliography

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