Composers and their stage works 

The Captain's Tiger


Athol Fugard


The play takes place on board a cargo steamer, trundling about the seas in the early 50s. Here, a young white South African author has found himself a position as personal servant to the captain - in sailor's parlance "the captain's tiger". In return for running errands and making beds, he gets free board and passage, a chance to see the world and time enough to start his cherished project, that of writing a novel based on the experiences of his mother.

As he labours on his somewhat purple prose her is attended by three figures. The first is his older self who pops in and out of the action to give us the benefit of hindsight and to put his own youthful follies into context. The second is the idealised figure of his mother as a young woman, who arrives first to inspire him and then to take issue with his flowery representation of her life. And third, there is "Donkeyman", a black sailor on board to tend and fix the ship's geriatric engine. Donkeyman speaks very little English and is illiterate and yet he loves to listen to the author's story and, by listening, he encourages the young writer to keep going.

As the ship steams on so the journey becomes also a creative one. The tiger being the wayward spirit of creative inspiration, the character Donkey being the reader and the author's mother showing a life as it was or a life that might have been.