The Train Driver is the latest play from Athol Fugard. It had its world premiere at the new Fugard Theatre in Cape Town in March 2010.
The 75 minute play is a dialogue between Simon, the black grave digger, and Roelf, the white train driver. The action of the play takes place in February 2001 in a graveyard outside Motherwell in the Eastern Cape. Roelf is seeking the grave of the unidentified woman and baby who stepped in front of his fast moving train. He was unable to stop the train in time and so the woman and baby were killed. Despite having received counselling, Roelf has been in a mental turmoil since the accident in December.
Roelf and Simon would not normally meet each other and so they need to find out about each other’s very different lives. The setting brings home to the viewer the extreme poverty and difficulty that many people continue to experience in their daily lives in South Africa. The story is all the more poignant because of the evident desperation of the woman who stepped in front of the train.
Most of the play was in English but there were substantial Afrikaans references. The language was often foul. South Africans will understand some of the references better than those who do not know the country. But the story was fundamentally easy to understand and of universal relevance.
Owen Sejake, as Simon, and Sean Taylor, as Roelf, produced powerful performances which kept me spellbound. The emotions were raw. The subject matter was incredibly sad. There was no happy ending. I believed the actors and their story. I was entranced. This is theatre at its best.