A proudly South African theatrical gem

2012-03-01 00:00

IN an era when there was no freedom of speech, Mbongeni Ngema, Percy Mtwa and Barney Simon created Woza Albert!, a South African theatre classic, through which they could tell the world what was happening in eighties apartheid South Africa.

Hamilton Dlamini and Mncedisi Shabangu, the two actors performing in the revival of the play — which comes to Michaelhouse’s Schlesinger Theatre this week — are relishing the challenge of performing multiple roles and a complex text.

“The show is demanding mentally, spiritually, physically and otherwise,” Dlamini says, adding that he never wanted to follow the well-trodden path of actors getting a role on a soapie and then staying there. “I wanted to challenge myself ... The show is a classic, as you know, and doing justice to this theatre piece becomes another way of measuring my capabilities.”

Shabangu agrees, adding that he found the lure of performing in Woza Albert! simply irresistible. “Woza Albert! doesn’t tell an apartheid story, that is why it’s easy to embrace the issues it raises today. Woza Albert! talks about unemployment and displacement of people. It talks about the dead leaders and the lack of leadership ... So in today’s parallels, who is our Morena [Jesus Christ]?”

A lively satire on the absurdities of apartheid, Woza Albert! asks what would happen if Jesus had come back to South Africa during those dark days.

The first act sets the scene, attacking the pass laws that prevented black South Africans from moving and working ­freely, and sketching in a few short minutes a picture of the semi-slavery that was imposed on manual workers by bosses who could fire them if they got too independent.

In the second half, Jesus is in the country and his life is replayed in the ­apartheid context. He is first welcomed, then imprisoned. This retelling of a familiar story in a new context sheds light on both the Bible and apartheid South Africa.

Dlamini said he particularly enjoyed bringing to life the play’s different characters, and getting to grips with the state of mind that existed in South Africa when the text was written. “It is challenging to play more than one role on stage because you only have a split second to transform in and out of a character,” he added.

After their trip to Michaelhouse, the actors and director, Prince Lamla, will head back to Johannesburg for another season at the Market Theatre, from March 13 to April 22. And in August, they’ll be heading to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.

Theatre of this calibre is a rare treat for those of us living in the midlands, so whatever you do, don’t miss Woza Albert! this week.

Show times are 11 am and 7 pm today, at 3 pm tomorrow and at 7 pm on Saturday at the Schlesinger Theatre.

Tickets are R100 (R80 for pupils and pensioners).

Please note: there will be a lecture by Malcolm Purkey following the performance on March 2. To book, e-mail ­theatre@michaelhouse.org or phone 033 234 1314.


HAMILTON Dlamini’s television credits include Zikhethele, Home


, Stokvel, Zero

Tolerance and the SABC1 mini-series adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear


Izingane zoBaba


His film credits include a South African Film and Television Award-winning performance in Faith Like Potatoes

and a supporting role in Otelo Burning

, a film about young black surfers in Durban in the eighties.

Dlamini has also produced the musical theatre shows Thokoza and Zakata, both of which concentrate on the abuse of women by men, other women and society as a whole.

He is currently writing a new show, Khayalami, which means home and is, he says, about “all the things that I have seen and heard about since I was born”.

Dlamini has also worked with artist William Kentridge, and the award-winning Handspring Puppet Company (the creators of the puppets used in the London and Broadway performances of War Horse

) on Woyzneck in the Highveld

, which has been performed worldwide.


MNCEDISI Shabangu starred opposite Tim Robbins in Catch a Fire

, the 2006 thriller about terrorists in apartheid-era South Africa.

He starred in Lara Foot Newton’s deeply moving play, Tshepang, which was staged at Michaelhouse last year, and has also appeared in James Ngcobo’s The Suitcase

, The

Jungle Book

, directed by Craig Higginson, and Dream of the Dog

, directed by Malcolm Purkey, among other plays.

At the Market Theatre, Shabangu has worked as an actor, director, creator, tutor and associate artistic director.

He has also toured extensively with the Handspring Puppet Company, and says that while he still calls Kanyamazane in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, home, “the world is always calling, making it hard for my two children to have a daddy”.

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