"Master Harold"...and the Boys

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"Master Harold"...and the Boys
Master Harold and the Boys Penguin.jpg
Penguin Books edition
Written by Athol Fugard
Characters Hally
Date premiered 1982
Place premiered Yale Repertory Theatre
New Haven, Connecticut
Original language English
Subject A student moves from childhood innocence to poisonous bigotry.
Genre Drama
Setting St. Georges Park Tea Room, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. 1950.

"Master Harold"...and the Boys is a play by Athol Fugard. Set in 1950, it was first produced at the Yale Repertory Theatre in March 1982 and made its premiere on Broadway on 4 May at the Lyceum Theatre,[1] where it ran for 344 performances. The play takes place in South Africa during apartheid era, and depicts how institutionalized racism, bigotry or hatred can become absorbed by those who live under it.

The play was initially banned from production in South Africa.[2] It was the first of Fugard's plays to premiere outside of South Africa.[1]


The play opens its doors into the world of seventeen-year-old Afrikaner, Hally (Master Harold); who, will spend a long, and rainy (coming of age) afternoon, with two middle-aged African servants of his parent's household; Sam and Willie, whom he has known; (in the classic "Mammy" vs. Scarlett (Gone With the Wind) O'Hara sense) and has been cared for by, all of his life. On this afternoon, Sam and Willie are practicing ballroom steps in preparation for a major competition. Sam is quickly characterized as being the more worldly of the two. When Willie, in broken English, describes his ballroom partner (his girlfriend) as lacking enthusiasm, Sam correctly diagnoses the problem: Willie beats her if she doesn't know the steps.

Hally then arrives from school. Sam, the unacknowledged, yet de-facto mentor to the boy since childhood, has always treated Hally as his nephew/ward; who, is to be skillfully guided thru that difficult passage from childhood into manhood. And hopefully thereby, takes up those values and viewpoints of an adult; and a man, that Sam, has over the years lain down; and, that all men try to leave as their legacy of shepherding an adolescent boy into manhood. Willie, for his part, has always played the "loyal black"; who has always called the white Afrikaner boy (now young man) "Master Harold"; As if, as a man of fifty, he was addressing a superior; even when Hally was six.

The conversation between the three moves from Hally's school-work, to an intellectual discussion on "A Man of Magnitude", to flashbacks of Hally, Sam and Willie when they lived in a Boarding House. Hally warmly remembers the simple act of flying a kite Sam had made for him out of junk; we later learn that Sam made it to cheer Hally up after he was embarrassed greatly by his father's public and continuing drunkenness. Conversation then turns to Hally's 500-word English composition. The play reaches an emotional apex as the beauty of the ballroom dancing floor ("a world without collisions") is used as a transcendent metaphor for life.

Almost immediately despair returns: Hally's tyrannical father has been in the hospital because of medical complications due to the leg he lost in World War II, but it appears that today he is coming home. Hally is distraught about this news, since his father being home will make home life unbearable. He unleashes on his two black friends years of anger, pain and vicarious racism from his father, creating possibly permanent rifts in his relationship with them. For the first time, apart from hints throughout the play, Hally begins explicitly to treat Sam and Willie as subservient help rather than as friends or playmates, insisting that Sam call him "Master Harold" and spitting on him, among other things. Sam is hurt and angry but understands that Hally is really causing himself the most pain.

There is a glimmer of hope for reconciliation at the end, when Sam addresses Hally by his nickname again and asks to start over the next day, hearkening back to the simple days of the kite. Hally responds "It's still raining, Sam. You can't fly kites on rainy days, remember," then walks out into the rain. The play ends while Sam and Willie console each other by ballroom dancing together.

Critical reception[edit]

John Simon, writing for New York Magazine, was measured in his review:

Fugard has now perfected his way of writing plays about the tragedy of apartheid; he avoids the spectacular horrors and concentrates instead on the subtle corrosion and corruption, on the crumbling of the spirit for which the cure would be heroic action that may not be forthcoming, which the blacks try to assuage with the salve of dreams, the whites with the cautery of oppression.

— John Simon, "'Two Harolds and no Medea." (May 17, 1982)[3]

Frank Rich of the New York Times praised the performance at the original Broadway premiere:

There may be two or three living playwrights in the world who can write as well as Athol Fugard, but I'm not sure that any of them has written a recent play that can match 'Master Harold' ... and the Boys. Mr. Fugard's drama - lyrical in design, shattering in impact - is likely to be an enduring part of the theater long after most of this Broadway season has turned to dust.

— Frank Rich, "'Master Harold,' Fugard's drama on the origin of hate." (May 5, 1982)[1]

Casting History[edit]

The principal casts of notable productions of Master Harold... and the Boys

Production/Role Hally Sam Willie
1982 Yale Repertory[1] Željko Ivanek Zakes Mokae Danny Glover
1982 Original Broadway[1] Lonny Price Zakes Mokae Danny Glover
2003 Broadway Revival Christopher Denham Danny Glover Michael Boatman
2012 South African Revival[4] Alex Middlebrook Tshamano Sebe Themba Mchunu
2013 South African Revival (in Afrikaans) Hennie Jacobs Terence Bridgette Christo Davids

Ivanek left to make the film The Sender in 1982, which is why he was replaced by Price.

The Afrikaans version was translated by Idil Sheard as Master Harold en die Boys.


1985 film[edit]

Fugard adapted the play for a television movie produced in 1985, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg with stars, Matthew Broderick, Zakes Mokae, and John Kani.

2010 film[edit]

A filmed version of the play was produced in South Africa in 2009 starring Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) as Hally and Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission Impossible 1–3) as Sam. The film was directed by Emmy Award-winning director Lonny Price (who played Hally in the original Broadway cast) and produced by Zaheer Goodman-Bhyat, Mike Auret, Nelle Nugent and David Pupkewitz.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1982 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play
  • 1983 London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Play
  • 1983 London Evening Standard Award for Best Play
  • 1982 Tony Award for Best Play


  1. ^ a b c d e Rich, Frank (May 5, 1982). "STAGE: 'MASTER HAROLD,' FUGARD'S DRAMA ON ORIGIN OF HATE". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Master Harold...and the Boys" (Press release). The Colony Theatre Company. 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-01. 
  3. ^ Simon, John (17 May 1982). "Two Harolds and no Medea". New York Magazine (New York Media, LLC) 15 (20): 76. ISSN 0028-7369. 
  4. ^ Fick, David."BWW Reviews: New 'MASTER HAROLD' Production at the Fugard Packs an Emotional Punch" BroadwayWorld, March 26, 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Fugard, Athol (1982). "Master Harold"-- and the Boys (First ed.). New York: A.A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-52874-3. 

External links[edit]