By Ruvesen Naidoo
‘Now tell me, what will you ask Morena when he comes to you?’
It’s a line echoed throughout Woza Albert!, the extraordinary piece of theatre that’s captivated audiences with its thought-provoking narrative, exceptional performances, and profound exploration of socio-political issues since 1981.
Set during apartheid-era South Africa, Woza Albert! follows the story of two South African Black men waiting for a miracle. The talented two man cast, Thulani Mtsweni and Hamilton Dhlamini, each deliver their performances of a variety of characters with vast emotional range and marked skill. The play employs poetic use of cutting satire to relay the harsh, oppressive political climate and social injustices rife at the time.
By reimagining Jesus Christ as the liberator, Morena, whose second coming occurs in South Africa, the show offers the audience an interesting viewpoint of the experiences of black South Africans.
Using a minimalist set design, with two white boxes as primary props, complimented by swift costume changes, the production allows its performers to shine, occupying the full range of the stage with the engaging presence. The amalgamation of tragedy and comedy is thoughtfully crafted to draw out the absurdity of the time.
Both Mtsweni and Dhlamini effortlessly transition between multiple characters, with unwavering commitment and conviction. Similarly, much of the intensity of Woza Albert! is generated and maintained by the rare chemistry between the actors.
Throughout its hour and a half duration, the show creates a precarious balance between its hefty subject matter and moments of joviality to ensure that the audience remains captivated. The actors use humour as a weapon to expose the cruelty of apartheid policies; such as the carrying of dom passes, but also as a manifestation of hope and toughness.
The script’s intelligent use of wordplay is effective in delivering the powerful message resistance to oppression informed by the play’s context, without saturing its entertaining appeal.
Judging by the full house, as well as the standing ovation, this iconic piece of protest theatre, has lost none of its urgency, relevance or appeal. Staged in the contemporary, it allows for the audience to consider the alignment between past and present challenges, to engage in active dialogue and reflection, and perhaps confront their own prejudices.
Woza Albert! is on until 1 July 2023 at the Gymnasium.