Kunene and the King Assistant Director Nel Crouch is in South Africa as preparations for the new play featuring John Kani and Antony Sher continue.
So, week one in Cape Town, and I’m still pinching myself daily for the privilege of getting to know this beautiful, complex country, its people and its theatre.
Kunene and the King explores where South Africa is now, 25 years after the end of the apartheid regime. We follow two men, one black and one white, who, due to apartheid and its legacy, have lived very different experiences of the same country. Here, amongst Cape Town’s luxury sea-view villas, its hipster coffee shops and its corrugated tin shacks, it is clear that South Africans are still living very different lives right alongside each other. John Kani’s play forms part of an ongoing national conversation and reflection around reconciliation. How might these two characters, these differing experiences and this country come to truly see each other?
Theatre has been a vital space to carry out this conversation and our writer (and actor), John Kani, has been a huge voice in South African theatre, creating shows including The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead alongside Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona. His activism and theatre work led to an arrest, time in custody and an assassination attempt. Under apartheid, making political theatre was an act of extreme bravery.
On Friday we all went to the Baxter Theatre to see Woza Albert!, with the same cast as the original production 40 years ago. Woza Albert! skewers the absurdities of apartheid, using slapstick and satire to imagine the second coming of Christ in apartheid-era South Africa. In its last moments, as dead black South African heroes are raised, Lazarus-like, from the dead, murmurs and cheers moved through the audience. In 2019, this was incredibly moving. How extraordinary and how dangerous, then, this must have felt for an audience under apartheid.
We’ll be spending the next few weeks rehearsing in Cape Town, exploring South Africa both now and under apartheid and thinking about how theatre can create a space for national conversations. Hopefully these blogs will give a little glimpse into our time here, our hosts at the Fugard Theatre and an insight into the making of Kunene and the King!