Last night I saw Caryl Churchill’s moving father and son play, A Number, well performed at Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre. The sell-out London production stars British father and son thesps Timothy and Samuel West. Churchill is an English dramatist acknowledged as a major playwright in the English language and “known for her use of non-naturalistic techniques and feminist themes, the abuses of power, and sexual politics”.
Written in 2002 when the controversial subject of human cloning made news headlines, A Number features a father (Salter) and his three sons, Bernard (B1), Bernard (B2), and Michael Black. Two of the three sons are clones of the original. “The play examines the concept of identity, the age-old question of nature versus nurture, and the highly controversial concept of human cloning.” It examines what makes us ‘us’ – the mixture of genetics and upbringing. A Number “comes down more heavily on the side of nurture being the great changing thing”.
A Number originally debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in London on September 23, 2002 with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. It had many sold-out runs in London and the USA. The play comes to Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre after its most recent sold-out run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, an award-winning 180 seat “fringe-studio” theatre, restaurant, and gallery in London.
Named in honor of Athol Fugard, South Africa’s iconic playwright, the Fugard Theatre is in the historic Sacks Futeran building in Cape Town’s District Six. For generations the Futeran family traded from the building. In the early twentieth century it was frequented by generations of District Six seamstresses and tailors and as a factory supplied the Cape with textiles and soft goods. Before that, the building was the Buitenkant Congregational Church.
In 2010 the building housed an annex of the District Six Museum displaying the Fields of Play exhibition on the history and development of soccer in the Cape. “The Fields of Play exhibition explores the dynamic intersection of memory, football, and forced removals in the history of Cape Town. More than merely a scene of pastime and leisure, football offers insights into the complex social history that defined Cape Town as a modern South African city.”
The building is a well-preserved National Heritage Site consisting of two redeveloped warehouses and a Gothic church. It includes a 270-seat theatre, small rehearsal studio, foyer space, dressing rooms, and staff facilities.
Performed for a small audience in the intimate studio, the fifty-minute presentation last night was extraordinary with superb acting by Timothy and Samuel West. I’ve been a fan of small live theatre for many years and compare last night’s performance to those seen at the Magic Theater at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. The Fugard Theatre itself has incredible ambience. You clearly sense the historical significance of the space.