03 Apr ‘Woza Albert’ Wows at the Baxter
29 March to 9 April
Woza Albert: it’s tight, has talented acting and production, and last night it certainly blew my mind.
The rain is upon us and the time for going to the theatre is officially here. So last night I ambled into the Baxter Theatre to see the preview for Woza Albert. And I’m glad that I did.
After seeing the fantastic Inj’emnyama (Black Dog) toward the end of last year, it was a treat to see that there would be another Barney Simon tribute play by UCT. This time Barney Simon teamed up with Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema to write Woza Albert. They wrote the play in 1981 (but you’d be surprised by how relevant it still is today) and it has been performed around the world to critical acclaim. Wikipedia calls it “the most successful play to come out of South Africa”.
And it is showing right now in Cape Town.
Mdu Kweyama (director) brings to life again (agh, please excuse the Jesus pun) the story of pass-book-enforcing, Calvinist Apartheid South Africa when Morena (Jesus) returns. It answers the age-old question of “what would Jesus do?”.
Kweyama says of the relevance of the play even today:
Many things have changed since the end of apartheid, but some of these experiences remain relevant and a reality to many South Africans still today.
Our cities remain segregated spaces, to a large extent. Inequality is high and poverty continues to constrain the lives of many. And, as the last couple of months have shown us, racism and racial tensions remain very much alive in our society.
With this play we are able to bring these burning issues to audiences in a satirical way. Although funny, it is true and there is no escaping the fact that these stories are true. I hope this will help open up further communication about the various issues that the country is dealing with at the moment.
But you can go read the Computicket page or whatever for a plot summary. Here’s what was amazing about this play:
It is tighter than fingers around a passbook.
It never stops moving forward and actors Sizwesandile Mnisi and Oarabile Ditsele never for a second let you rest. They were actually sweating. And I appreciate their sweat. If only more actors sweated like that onstage.
And there was also no interval to this play. They came onto stage to say what they wanted to say and then left. No three hour play with 20 minute interval here. No sore back and numb foot. No boring buildup to halftime suspense.
Thinking back I remember scenes where they were on the train and playing instruments. But I also know that the props were limited to two boxes, two red clown noses and clothing.
Of course there was no train! BUT! I can feel the movement of the train and hear the sound of it. That was all because of Sizwesandile Mnisi and Oarabile Ditsele. Slick swapping of talking and noise-making without ever messing up? It was incredible. Actors of less talent would have spoken to the rhythm of the train or given a white character’s lines a black accent.
Characters to make you smile.
They’re familiar South African characters that you’re more likely to know from the streets than the stage: the old man without teeth, the young boy selling his goods, the preacher in the train, the blonde news anchor. And of course to hear someone putting on an Afrikaner English accent is so fresh.
It’s at the Baxter Small Theatre
Normally I am scared of something at the small theatre: will it have low production value; do people already know that it isn’t very good; will they pick people from the audience? But this is the way that the Small Theatre should be used. You are there with the actors. You feel like they’re speaking to you. And last night the audience watching Woza Albert certainly spoke back.
Go see it.