By Alexander Coddington
Athol Fugard is South Africa’s most highly celebrated playwright, and one fascinatingly intrinsic aspect of rehearsing THE TRAIN DRIVER has been the words themselves. It sounds simple, but Fugard is such a precise playwright that every word is chosen very specifically, and he’s peppered in bits of his native tongue throughout the play. Together with our dialect coach Michelle Lopez-Rios (who recently guided Jonathan Wainwright and Laura Gray through their Irish brogues in THE GOOD FATHER at Chamber last fall), we have been dissecting and immersing ourselves in two particular South African dialects.
Michael Torrey has been learning Xhosa, a Bantu language and one of 11 official languages in South Africa. Xhosa is a tonal language that also uses clicks. The three basic clicks are “X” (as if you’re calling a horse), “C” (which is made against the teeth), and “Q” (which is done by clicking the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth). Meanwhile, David Daniel has been tackling Afrikaans, which is largely influenced by Dutch. The language evolved from Dutch settlers who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th Century.
One of the most difficult things about having both Afrikaans and Xhosa in the rehearsal room is how similar they are, and yet very different in certain subtle ways. It’d be akin to a play about a man from Texas and a man from South Carolina; we think of them as both being “Southern” accents, but there are incredibly important differences between the two. It’s especially difficult sometimes to stay in the right accent when Roelf uses a Xhosa and inversely when Simon uses an Afrikaans word.
|Dialect coach Michelle Lopez-Rios observing Michael Torrey|
and David Daniel rehearse a scene for THE TRAIN DRIVER.
Here are five terms in Xhosa and five in Afrikaans that we use in THE TRAIN DRIVER:
Amadoda/Abafazi: Dead man/woman
Tsosti: Local gang member
“Finish and klaar”: “All over” or “that’s it”
Pasop: Be careful
“S’trues God”: “Swear by God”