By Lillian Zandile Tshabalala |
Woza Albert is a political satire play written by Barney Simon, Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema. It originally premiered at the Market Theatre in 1981 with original cast members Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema juggling different everyday South African characters who were journeying through the harsh apartheid era while anxiously holding on to the hope that one day their savior ‘Morena’ would come and save them from the devastating conditions of their beloved country.
The show has had world-wide runs with stellar performers like Siyabonga Twala, Errol Ndotho and Mncedisi Shabangu taking their bite of it, now audiences in and around Johannesburg & Soweto can look forward to its run at the Soweto theatre. The play was launched on the 8th of February and will run till the 22nd as part of their school set work program. The cast includes theatre icons; Hamilton Dlamini and Bheki Mkhwane who take to the stage to tell a brave and relevant tale. We went to visit the duo during one of their rehearsals, on a rainy Thursday morning and we found them already hard at work, sweating from their morning exercises before kick-starting their rehearsals. Disciplined and hard at work, they expressed that this type of work requires one to be physically and psychologically fit, each one has a unique ritual they use to prepare themselves.
Hamilton had originally done the play with Mncedisi Shabangu but when Mncedisi was unavailable for this season of the play, he saw no other actor best suitable for the character either than his talented friend of over 30 years; Bheki Mkhwane.
He chose Mkhwane because he knew that his work ethic would play a dynamic role in the rehearsal room and on the stage, both actors made an unconventional and bold decision to direct each other. Using their own eyes and strengths to oversee their own process.
When asked why the duo thinks it is important for the show to be seen by young audiences? Bheki Mkhwane stressed that even though the play is part of the school curriculum, it is important for the whole community young and old to come see the piece; so that the young can learn about the history of our country and the old can be reminded of the past to prevent it from repeating itself.
He also mentioned how fortunate he feels to be part of the legacy of a show that has opened up international gates for South African theatre at large, earning us the respect of world. In the same breathe he adds that it saddens him how most South African work has to travel abroad first before it is appreciated on home-ground.
Kudos to the Soweto theatre for having these kinds of programs in place, to help develop a culture of ‘going to the theatre’ for young audiences. In a world where theatre not only competes with television but social media as well, it is getting harder to get bums on seats but certainly not impossible! In fact, with the constant pressure from the ‘picture perfect media’, people are in search of something that will authentically speak to their souls, and theatre is that place. A space to help people find an escape, where they can zoom into another world with their cellphones completely switched off. They can have their minds driven away from the pressures of the 21st century.
On Woza Albert the characters portrayed are everyday people from vendor to barber; a domestic worker; manual labourer and soldier! Perhaps this is the reason why such phenomenal actors, who have made names for themselves in both television and film come back to the theatre. It is the one place where a single actor can portray many characters in one show; giving them the opportunity to play. When we asked the actors why they keep coming back to the stage? Hamilton, who started out at a community theatre when he was a young man said: “The theatre is the foundation of a great actor because it teaches you discipline and humility, the entire show depends on you showing up on time, knowing your lines and being ready to pour out your soul to people who are hungry to hear what you have to say”. He worries that today’s up and coming actors have little respect for their craft and focus more on their social images than they do on getting their work done right.
“There’s a difference between a celebrity actor and a professional actor and that’s why people run to television because they are afraid to sweat it out in the theatre”
The play beautifully fuses acting, dance and song and the actors are excited to be taking on roles that were once portrayed by South African Legends. Bheki reminisced on the first time he saw the play in his hometown of Kwamashu. He was truly blown away by how amazingly the actors told a story that was oh so familiar to our people, he also mentioned that theatre shows like Iphi ‘ntombi and Woza Albert made him realize that he himself wanted to be a performer that would always focus on telling stories that his people could relate to. Hamilton has unfortunately never seen the original play because in those days, the shows were inundated with a heavy police presence and “We were afraid of getting arrested” he says.
But once he read the script he knew that this would be a show worth investing his time and money on.
The actors drew a lot of inspiration from the original cast members. In the rehearsal room, i couldn’t help but notice that they also brought a lot of fresh and exciting energy to the play. With truthful storytelling and dedication to each sound made; whether from their lips, props or bodies. The team is excited to be taking the show to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year. They are also open to working with institutions that would like to assist in taking the play around the country and around the world!
You have until the 22nd of Feb to catch ‘Woza Albert’ at the Soweto Theatre.
Dates & Times:
Wed & Thurs: 3pm
Fri: 11am and 8pm
Tickets: R70 (weekday matinees)
R100 (Friday and Saturday evenings & Sunday matinees)
Visit: www.sowetotheatre.com or Webtickets
Call: 0861 670 670
For group bookings of 10 or more contact: 011 930 7461/2/3
Pensioner discounts available
Age Restriction – No under 14’s