SA acting legend, John Kani, receives international award

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Sir Anthony Sher and John Kani in a scene from 'Kunene and the King'.
Sir Anthony Sher and John Kani in a scene from 'Kunene and the King'.

South African stage and screen legend, John Kani, has been recognised with an international Shakespeare award.

The Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award, introduced in 1990 by Pragnell the Jeweller, which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, is presented annually on the anniversary of the playwright’s birth in 1564.

It recognises ‘outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare’ and the general advancement of Shakespearian knowledge and understanding.

Previous winners of the award include Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Janet Suzman, Sir Kenneth Branagh and Sir Antony Sher.

Kani has been rewarded for his play, Kunene and the King, which is set in post-apartheid South Africa and, using Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear, as a reference point, shows how ancient antagonisms remain unresolved.

The two-hander tells the story of Jack Morris, a celebrated classical actor, who has just been given both a career-defining role and a life-changing diagnosis, and his nurse, Lunga Kunene.

On the surface they have nothing in common, but slowly the two men discover their shared passion for Shakespeare.

Kunene and the King, which was created and written by Kani, has also been named one of the 10 best productions put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

“I am overwhelmed by this honour,” Kani, who credits include Marvel’s Black Panther, and the celebrated plays The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, said on hearing the news.

The play had its world premiere in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2019, before transferring to London’s West End.

The British performances, directed by Janice Honeyman, featured Sir Antony Sher (King Lear, 2016 and 2018) and Kani himself.

Music and vocals were provided by Anna Mudeka.

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