Athol Fugard

directed by Adam Henderson

A United Players of Vancouver production

at Jericho Arts Centre

March 24 - April 16, 2017






Spotlight Article by Sabrina Furminger

In Athol Fugard’s stirring drama The Train Driver, the journey from guilt to redemption is simultaneously epic and intimate.

Roelf Visagie was just an average train driver working the railroad in Cape Town, South Africa, until a fateful day in 2000 when a young mother with a baby on her back stepped onto the tracks and stared deeply into his eyes before his train mowed her down. Although weeks have passed since the accident – a tragedy that Roelf, given the speed at which trains move, could not have prevented – Roelf is haunted nonetheless by the memory of the woman’s gaze and the baby peeking over her shoulder. According to a newspaper article that Roelf carries in his pocket, the woman and her child were never identified or claimed before their bodies were lost to the system.

And so Roelf – a white man in a nation still divided along racial lines – spends weeks visiting poor neighborhoods up and down the railway line, searching for any information that would identify the dead mother and child. His search brings him to a graveyard that serves the unnamed and unclaimed. There, Roelf meets Simon Hanabe, the man who digs the graves and keeps the dogs at bay. Simon is baffled by the presence and requests of this unhinged train driver; Roelf is eager to find the dead woman’s grave so he can have the final word.

Mesmerizing and cathartic, The Train Driver illuminates the bonds that can spring up between strangers, and the ability innate within all of us to empathize beyond the scope of our experiences.

Director Adam Henderson – who helms United Players’ production of The Train Driver – has a long history with Fugard’s plays; one of Henderson’s earliest professional roles as an actor was in a production of Fugard’s People Are Living Here. “[Fugard] writes with such honesty that I know that the more closely I study [The Train Driver], the more will be revealed,” says Henderson. “He writes in these wonderful metaphors, and he’s always autobiographical, in a very, very honest way, in that he refuses to write about anything he doesn’t know about, and so I’m very interested in plays where the playwright has such integrity that I know, by virtue of the fact that he wrote it, that it has some substance.”

In the case of The Train Driver, Henderson notes that Fugard was inspired by a real-life train tragedy involving a mother and her three children, and originally intended to tell the story from the mother’s perspective. “In the process of doing that, he discovered that he had no way of knowing anything about her, because his own experience had been so entirely different, and so he ended up writing a play about the driver who had mowed her down instead, because that was something that he could know,” says Henderson. “I think in that, he found a metaphor for being a white South African, where you find yourself at the wheel of this juggernaut that is causing destruction, and yet, you are not in control of the path, because it’s on the tracks and you can’t stop a train. You can’t swerve. I think that’s his metaphoric feeling for being a white person in South Africa post-apartheid and trying to come to terms with his own dissonance, his own sense of guilt and responsibility, for the terrible damage that was done by the systemic racism of his own culture.”

Vancouver audiences might recognize in Fugard’s exploration of post-apartheid South Africa echoes of the journey towards reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, says Henderson. “One of the things that became apparent to me when I started looking into this play is, the South African government, when it was setting up apartheid, studied Canada as a model, because we had been so efficient with sidelining our native population and taking them out of the political process,” says Henderson. “So as soon as I started thinking in those terms, I started recognizing the potential for parallel. Parallels like that are always dangerous, because we have the opportunity to oversimplify, and I don’t intend to draw a direct parallel between South African apartheid and our relationship with the First Nations here, but there is a similarity.”

Henderson is proud of his cast: Paul Herbert as Roelf Visagie and Pasi Clayton Gunguwo as Simon Hanabe. Of Gunguwo, Henderson says: “My principal challenge was finding an African actor, because I thought the black African actor had to be African, or unlike Fugard, we weren’t being honest.” Gunguwo is from Zimbabwe, and a well-known and experienced musician in Vancouver; The Train Driver marks his first acting role. As for the actor playing the titular character, Henderson says that the veteran Herbert is “an extremely good and unrecognized actor in Vancouver.”

Audiences will be further transported to Africa via music. “I happen to have a passion for African music, and have studied it and collected it for years,” says Henderson, noting that the music will be representative of “modern, post-apartheid Africa, because that’s what we’re exploring.”

United Players’ production of The Train Driver features Paul Herbert as Roelf Visagie and Pasi Clayton Gunguwo as Simon Hanabe.

The production team includes Adam Henderson (Director), Andree Karas (Artistic Director), Maria Denholme (Stage Manager), Michael Methot (Technical Director and Lighting Designer), Zakk Harris (Sound Designer), Catherine E. Carr (Costume Designer), Linda Begg (Properties Designer and Producer), Ryan Yee (Technical Manager), and Alan Brodie (Assistant Director).

Born in New York and raised in Winnipeg, Adam Henderson started acting professionally at The Manitoba Theatre Centre, and then trained in England at The Bristol Old Vic. He has acted in London's West End, at the Royal National Theatre, and at many repertory and fringe theatres across Europe.  He directed for The Edinburgh Festival and at the Almeida Theatre. Now based in Vancouver, his roles include Stones in his Pockets, Peer Gynt & Mary Stuart for Blackbird, Dial 'M' for Murder for the Arts Club, as well as A Skull in Connemara, Translations, Cyrano de Bergerac and Arturo Ui. His film & TV work includes Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone and A Dangerous Man with Ralph Fiennes, among others. He recently directed London Assurance, The Marriage of Figaro, Present Laughter, and People for United Players.

Athol Fugard is a South African playwright, novelist, actor, and director. He is perhaps best known for his political plays opposing the system of apartheid and for the 2005 Academy Award-winning film of his novel Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood. Fugard was born in Middelburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa, in 1932. His mother was an Afrikaner and his father was of Irish, English, and French Huguenot descent. It was while working as a clerk in a Native Commissioners' Court in Johannesburg in the late 1950s that Fugard received an education on the horrors and injustices of apartheid; those experiences, as well as his friendships with prominent local anti-apartheid figures, impacted his work. Eventually, Fugard’s plays brought him into conflict with the national government; and to avoid prosecution, he had his plays produced and published outside South Africa. Fugard’s numerous works include Nogogo (1959), People Are Living Here (1968), Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972), Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (1972), “Master Harold” …and the Boys (1982), The Road to Mecca (1984), and My Children! My Africa! (1989).

-With files from Wikipedia


At the Jericho Arts Centre - 1675 Discovery (near Jericho Beach)


Thursday through Sunday, at 8 pm
(2pm only on April 2 & 16)

$12 Preview: March 23
Talkback: March 30

Matinees: April 2 & 16 at 2pm
(no evening performances on those dates)

Single Tickets: $20 - $24

Jericho Arts Centre

1675 Discovery Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6R 4K5

TICKETS: Online or call 604 224 8007, ext. 2

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