He ain’t heavy, he’s my special boy



THE boy and his Primus stove. Photograph courtesy

THE RIPPLES THAT an autistic diagnosis make in a society are complex and devastating. They centre on the individual, spill over into his or her loved ones and then touch the community and the society in ways sometimes supportive and at other times, cruel. This is the thread of Pieter Fourie’s 1975 play Faan se Trein, reworked for radio and broadcast last year on Radio Sonder Grense on 26 December. It is available for free on the radio station’s website.

It is 1950. Faan (Marthinus Basson) is the autistic son of Frik (Dawie Maritz) and they live on a farm in the Karoo. Everything is in the balance, with bulldozers looming for the establishment of new business concerns and the need for Frik to hold on to what he has. His almost-grown son is on the autistic spectrum; his engagement with minutiae as complex as the components of a Primus stove or a record player and as big and difficult as sexual maturity in a mind not built for romantic give and take makes him at times violent and difficult to predict.

Like Oskar in Günter Grass’s Tin Drum, he is subject to the cruelties of children. Like miscreant children in works ranging from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is threatened with incarceration of one kind or another for sins he doesn’t always understand. Like productions of the ilk of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Forrest Gump or and David Robbins’s magnificent book Walking to Australia, his plight is conveyed in candid terms, that do not shy from describing socially unacceptable behaviour. There is poetry in the heaviness of Faan, carried by his elderly dad until he can’t anymore. It’s a rich and evocative work which you may have heard at the end of 2019, but it always bears another listen.

  • Faan se Trein (Faan’s Train) is written by Pieter Fourie. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, and featuring technical input by Alan Rabie and Madeline Carlson, it is performed by Dawie Ackermann, Marthinus Basson, Johan Botha, Hannes Horne, Dawie Maritz and Barbara McArthur. It was broadcast on RSG on 26 December 2019 and is available for free on podcast through the radio station’s website:

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