Set in apartheid South Africa, Woza Albert is a thrilling production brought back to life at this year’s National Arts Festival by star South African actors Hamilton Ntokozo Dlamini and Bheki Mkhwane. The satirical piece with exaggerated movements and a two-man cast uses aspects of physical, protest and workshop theatre.
Video by Athini Majali and Zondelela Njaba
The play begins with a highly energetic scene, Dlamini, and Mkhwane springing onto the stage, using their mouths to make trumpet-like sounds in familiar melodies. The quick transitions between the snippet scenes have the common thread of Morena, a Jesus-like figure, who is supposedly going to come and restore the dignity of black South Africans.
The play, originally scripted by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon back in 1981 deals with themes: racism, religion, poverty, lack of education, poor leadership and a loss of hope. In the final scene, the actors call on struggle heroes, “Woza Sobukwe! (Robert Sobukwe) Woza Ngoyi! (Lilian Ngoyi) Woza Albert! (Albert Luthuli) Woza Biko! (Bantu Stephen Biko)” to save them from the harsh conditions they live in.
Pictures by Athini Majali and Hlumela Dyantyi
Dlamini and Mkhwane capture the hearts of the audience through their versatile accents and characterization. When impersonating white people or authoritarian figures, they wear pink clown noses in mockery. The fourth wall is broken early in the play by the actors pointing to specific audience members, asking them to donate money, emphasizing the poverty that black people lived in.
The audience burst into laughter in one of the scenes where the actors’ mocked demeaning prison searches by sticking out their naked behinds to the audience. On how the actors physically prepared for Woza Albert, Mkhwane said, “When Mbongeni and Percy did Woza Albert they were about 29/30, I don’t want to expose my age but it’s hard.” Mkhwane also said that he relied on Dlamini for direction as he has done Woza Albert many times before.
Woza Albert takes place on a simplistic stage with two crates and a rack of clothing and blankets. It is simple yet still relevant today. Dlamini said that he felt the play could relate to the Fees Must Fall protest today and that he was so proud of today’s youth who are fighting for free education.
By Hlumela Dyanti
Catch the final performances at The Hangar on 8 July and 10.30am and 9.30pm, and 9 July at 3pm.