Theatre Review: A Lesson From Aloes, A 35 Year Old Play That Still Resonates Today

A Lesson From Aloes, Finborough Theatre ★★★★☆

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Theatre Review: A Lesson From Aloes, A 35 Year Old Play That Still Resonates Today A Lesson From Aloes, Finborough Theatre 4
Photo: Alixandra Fazzina

Democracy and freedom are fragile things. In a world falling apart to paranoia and suspicion, the only thing that grows in this barren land are little pots of aloe. The dystopia is a dreary Port Elizabeth suburb in 1960s South Africa. Piet (David Minnaar) and Gladys (Janine Ulfane) are waiting for a family to visit. But the guests are late and for good reason.

There's suspicion that Piet turned informer to the apartheid regime and their world has collapsed. But politics is not the only thing on everyone's minds.

It's a sharp and incisive play about individuals and their place in the world. A great cast, fast-paced direction and claustrophobic design keep things gripping throughout. Ulfane and Minnaar are particularly engaging as a couple barely holding it together. And holding onto secrets. While you know it isn't going to last, the second half unfolds in a thoughtful and reflective way. Focusing on the personal toll politics imposes feels more devastating. And real.

The design by Norman Coates and Mannie Manim's lighting evoke the hot oppressive South African environment, while playwright Athol Fugard generates the feeling of political oppression throughout his text. With references to the details of interrogations and living under surveillance, it's a fascinating — and disturbing — insight into daily life under the apartheid regime.

Fugard wrote the piece in 1978 and it's getting its first London premiere in over 35 years. While the apartheid regime may have changed, the play's themes about home, identity and belonging still feel relevant today.

A Lesson From Aloes, Finborough Theatre, Finborough Road, SW10 9ED, £18-£16. Until 23 March.

Last Updated 11 March 2019