By Nyaki Motloung
There is a beauty in the combination of protest theatre and poor theatre that will live for a thousand years and explains why Woza Albert! will keep returning to our theatres. And for these reasons and many more, it was a so heartwarming for me to see Soweto Theatre’s Red Theatre being packed on the opening night of the play.
Woza Albert! is a political South African satire which imagines the second coming of “Morena” in South Africa during the apartheid-era. Morena is the Christ-like figure whose arrival is much anticipated by many black South Africans and is a threat to the apartheid government as he is rumoured to bring salvation for the black people.
The largely self directed two man cast are required to play many characters such as a street vendor, barber and government officials in a bid to express the varied opinions of the arrival of Morena. And what we see is a spectacle where voices and bodies fill a stage with such a confidence that the (very minimal but effective) set, lighting and costume become just a cherry on top of this delicious cake.
Hamilton Dhlamini is a veteran in the performance of the play and displays the eloquence, wit and comedic timing which come from great discipline and and commitment to this great story. His swift changes from characters such as a black migrant worker to the worker’s white employee are so crisp and as an actor myself, I highly respect his continuining level of commitment to every role.
On the other hand, Bheki Mkhwane is new to the role and this performance was the first time I had seen him perform on a stage, whereas I have watched him many times on television. Filling the shoes of Mncedisi Shabangu, who was previously part of the Woza Albert! duo is no easy role. At times, I found myself missing Shabangu’s humour and ease on stage. However, being a creature of habit, I realised that change isn’t a bad thing. At all. One of the necessities of long living productions such as this, is the ability to re-imagine and alter. And in this case, the re-imaginaing came with the change in casting. It is not Mkhwane’s role to replace Shabangu. He was not tasked to fill anyone’s shoes and he did not; he brought his own shoes and boy, he wore them well.
Mkhwane, for me, brought an element which I can only explain as a father telling a story to his children which is close to his heart (this is not a comment in his age, okay. Ngicela ning’yeke). He takes control of his roles and when he calls izithakazelo there is a beautiful reaction from the audiences with whistling, clapping and a “yaaaaas'” here and there because many black Twitter has taught us new and different ways of expressing ourselves.
Although there were some opening night nerves and minor mishaps which can, and I am sure have been, improved such as forgetting to use props at the correct time and volume drops, the play is truly stunning. Dhlamini and Mkhwane are a two man talent army and a force to be reckoned with. I highly recommend this play and recommend that you you take a friend or three because there are some hilarious moments which you don’t want to be laughing at alone.
The production has only two shows remaining and will close on 22 February. Check out Soweto Theatre’s website to book your tickets.