Sizwe Banzi gets resurrected in style

2011-01-14 11:36

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead is not dead after all. The

1970s theatrical classic has been brought back to life yet again.

The play is currently running at the Laager Theatre at

Johannesburg’s iconic Market Theatre – albeit with a new cast.

What the performers – Arthur Molepo and Omphile Molusi – do in this

redux of the classic play is not simply acting, it’s a case of celebrating life

on stage.

Molepo, who plays Sizwe Banzi, a migrant worker caught up in the

madness of apartheid’s repressive pass laws, takes this character and brings it

to life with a performance that borders on the magical.

Molepo is an old hand at this game and his maturity on stage

complements the vibrant, youthful talent of Molusi, who plays Styles the


With such performances, even the co-authors and original cast of

John Kani and Winston Ntshona should be smiling at the realisation that their

magic has rubbed off on a new generation of actors.

Vince Motshabi’s youthful hand in the director’s chair should also

be commended, for it takes a good director to bring out the best in a performer.

Motshabi performs the task once carried out by grand ol’ master Athol Fugard

with aplomb.

It could not have been easy for a young director like him to take

such a classic and draw polished performances out of actors from two different


It might sound a bit much, but after watching this play one can

safely say that, unlike Sizwe Banzi who chose to die, local theatre has a bright

future if it lies in the likes of Motshabi and Molusi.

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead is set in Styles’ Photographic Studio and

follows Sizwe’s quest for survival in Port Elizabeth in the late 1960s and early

1970s. Poor Sizwe, a moegoe from a dorp called King Williams Town has been

caught without the right stamp in his passbook and is required by law to return

to his dirt-poor family.

But a meeting with a city kleva and an encounter with a dead body

prompts him to take a chance on a new life. Abandoning his given name and

identity, his story taps into issues around what makes us who we are.

Though the play tackles the life-and-death matter of the passbook,

which was used by the apartheid regime to largely control every aspect of a

black person’s life, it is in no way a sob story that leaves the audience

teary-eyed with sympathy for those who lived through the misery of such laws.

But it is still advisable for anyone planning a trip to the Laager

Theatre to carry a generous amount of tissues in preparation for the

laughter-induced tears that are sure to follow.

What a story! What acting! Long live Sizwe Banzi!

»? Sizwe Banzi is Dead is

on at the Laager Theatre at the Market Theatre in Newtown until February?20.

Book at Computicket


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