‘Master Harold’…and the boys I In conversation with Roy Alexander Weise


(♪ UPBEAT TRACK OVER CONVERSATION) Roy, I’d like to ask you a bit about ‘Master Harold’ …and the boys, which is coming on
at the National Theatre. It’s set in 1950s South Africa, very early days of the apartheid regime. It’s about a really unlikely friendship
between two middle-aged black men and a young 17-year-old white boy. – OK, count for me.
– Ready? – Ready.
– Five, six, seven, eight. One, two and three. One, two and three. Shoulders, two and three. Shoulders, two and three. Don’t look down, Willie.
Look happy, Willie! (AUDIENCE LAUGHS) It’s about patriarchy
and it’s about love and about friendship, and it’s a really beautiful play. Why this play and why now? Interesting.
(LAUGHS) So, Rufus asked me to read the play. I kind of struggled a little bit, because there’s, like,
a bit of tragedy that happens. OK, yeah. And it really breaks my heart
where this tragedy is borne from. I kind of wasn’t sure how much I was willing to, like, I guess,
experience that hurt some more… – Yeah.
– ..in the process of making it. But I guess the thing
that made me really do it is the story’s about, like,
this inherent need to love – before the need or desire to hate.
– Yeah. And these are the most unlikely men
to teach this kid, like… What they teach him. Yeah, some of the most incredible lessons
about what it is to be a man and to, like, exist in this world. – It’s not done very often.
– Yeah. Because it’s actually
semi-autobiographical. The Master Harold character is himself,
is Athol Fugard. Britain… We all know Britain actively
supported the apartheid regime. And even if people weren’t in power, if you were sitting at home
or what-have-you, inaction is support. – Yeah.
– That’s the one thing we know. And I feel like I say that, not to indict the various people
up and down the country, but because you can’t meet a person
without meeting their histories. Absolutely. And this is, in a very real way,
a part of our histories. – Completely.
– Even though it’s another country. Absolutely.
Yeah, it’s set in Port Elizabeth. Yeah, yeah. – In the St George’s Park Tea Room.
– Yeah. – Like, you know…
– (KOBNA LAUGHS) The route is absolutely from Europe,
so it is our history. It’s British history that needs
to be acknowledged. Yeah, exactly, acknowledged and expressed. I was leading up to ask about the actors
and the people. So, you can’t meet people
without meeting their histories, and you’ve peopled this production
with certain actors. Do you want to talk about Lucian,
Hammed, Anson? – Yeah.
– Mensah Bediako. All these various people.
What’s it been like working with them? Yeah, it’s been, like, really,
really wonderful. Have you worked with any before? – No. I haven’t.
– Oh, OK! And that is weird because I feel like,
subconsciously, I always end up working with at least
one person that I’ve worked with before. I guess cos it kind of
makes you feel safe. – Yeah, yeah.
– But, no, this is a brand new slate. They’re all amazing. They’re all funny and they all are kind,
and that is so important to me. Like, you know,
sometimes making theatre can be hard, and they are just really good people. And they’re fun
and there’s never a dull moment. Even Lucian? He’s notoriously difficult
to work… No, I’m joking! – Lucian is… He’s naughty.
– (LAUGHS) But in the best possible way. – They’re all so playful.
– Yeah. – And it’s Anson’s first play.
– Is it? – Yeah, it’s his first ever play.
– I like that. – His first time on stage at the Lyttelton.
– His first time in a play at the Nash? – No, play.
– No?! He’s, you know, he’s got quite an exciting
screen career going on in the background. – So, he’s got the chops?
– Yeah, he’s absolutely brilliant. But it’s been incredible
to see him learn and grow and just, like, take bits of different
people’s process and put that in. Is that a thrill for you? Because in a way, directing… Actors will rarely admit it,
but directors teach us so much. How’s that been for you, working
with someone who’s a bit new to the game? I feel like it makes me think so much
about practice and clarity. – I can’t give bad notes…
– Right. ..and expect experienced actors
to, basically, work out what I mean or what I’m asking –
I have to be really precise and really… – Targeted.
– Yeah. He is so lucky to have Hammed Animashaun
and Lucian Msamati for his first… you know, the players
in his first play, like. Yeah. They’re both ludicrously good. – Yeah, insanely good.
– Super. But he holds his own, he really does. – He really holds his own.
– Even better. – Yeah.
– Thrilling. That’s thrilling, genuinely. My last question – what is it you would
like audiences to take away from the play? I know that’s a difficult question.
It asks you to encapsulate so much. But just one thing –
it doesn’t even have to be the top thing. What is one thing, perhaps, you would like
audiences to keep in their hearts or minds when they go back out into the world? I have a really clear sense of what…
what that is. And think I have, like,
from the very beginning, from, like, the first read of the play. When I got to the end,
I was, like, shaking. And in a way, I didn’t want anybody
to feel like how I felt when I finished. But also realised
that it is a really important story and a really important part of history
that needs to be kept alive so that we, hopefully, learn lessons
from those experiences and from that particular story. – Hope, I think. Hope and optimism.
– Hope, OK. Because that is what I feel very often. And sometimes I feel like, when we tell stories
about those specific periods of time and that specific history of racism, like, I don’t know, I worry sometimes
that those stories reinforce like really old-force kind of narratives
about who people are. – Yeah.
– And the way that we treat each other. But we’ve got to keep telling
those stories. We just have to find different lenses, and I feel like, yeah,
the lens of this play is hope. Golden. “The lens of this play is hope.” – Thank you very much, yeah.
– (LAUGHS) – What are you laughing at?
– I’m just, like, “Did I say that?”

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