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Blood Knot

Review - Blood Knot at Orange Tree Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Athol Fugard's early play Blood Knot first premiered in 1961 - the year before I was born, so although I grew up in South Africa with Fugard as the pre-eminent playwright of the conflicted white South African experience at that time, this play passed me by till now. Fugard's plays may be deeply specific of their time and place, but he reached a frequently international audience with transfers to London (particularly to the Royal Court and later the National) and even Broadway.

Blood Knot is a beautiful little study of half-brothers from across the racial colour divide, born as they are of different fathers so one is light-skinned enough to pass as white, the other properly black. But reunited now as adults in a Port Elizabeth shack, they forge a mutual and even touching dependency, with the returning Morrie dancing attendance on his sibling Zach, even bathing his feet when the latter returns from work every night.

But both brothers are also yearning for a bigger escape: Zach dreaming of romance with a woman, Morrie of buying a farm for them both.

Morrie indulges in Zach's fantasy by securing him a female penpal through the pages of the local newspaper; instead of Waiting for Godot, the play essentially becomes 'Waiting for Ethel' (as the woman they are communicating with his called).

Those Beckettian echoes are amplified in the study of their relationship, playful and resentful by turns, and the play-acting between them that sometimes turns dangerously hostile.

The play is acted with an exacting naturalism (and very good South African accents) by Natan McMullen and Kalungi Ssebandeke as the siblings, but director Matthew Xia lends what is often a mostly static play an arresting theatricality, through the frequent use of atmospheric underscored music (by Xana) and the rippling lighting of Ciaran Cunningham.

Blood Knot is at the Orange Tree Theatre until 20th April. 

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