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Written by John Kani
Ambassadors Theatre, London
A Royal Shakespeare Company co-production with the Fugard Theatre in association with Eric Abraham
Directed by Janice Honeyman
Friday 24 January – Saturday 28 March 2020
Press night: Wednesday 29 January at 7:30pm


John Kani’s ‘remarkable and moving’ (***** Guardian) two-hander Kunene and the King will transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre, London for a strictly limited West End run from 24 January to 28 March 2020.

Co-produced by the RSC in partnership with Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre, this timely new play marks 25 years since South Africa’s first democratic elections. The production first premiered in the RSC’s Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in March 2019. The production transferred to the Fugard Theatre in April where it played to sell-out audiences.

South African actor, activist and playwright John Kani (The Island, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Black Panther) will reprise his role as Lunga Kunene alongside South African actor and RSC Honorary Associate Artist, Antony Sher (King Lear 2016 & 2018; Death of a Salesman 2015) in this important production directed by Janice Honeyman (Vice Versa 2013; The Tempest 2009). The production will again feature live music performed by Lungiswa Plaatjies, who also returns for the West End run.

John Kani last performed at the Ambassadors in 1974, where he appeared alongside actor and co-author, the late Winston Ntshona, in the Tony award-winning Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, which went onto receive the London Theatre Critics Award for the Best Play of that year.

John Kani said, “In 1973, Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, which I co-wrote with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, transferred from the Royal Court Theatre to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End. Peter Brook brought his company Paris to see the two plays and thus began a friendship between Peter and I that has lasted till today. Returning to the Ambassadors Theatre brings back those fond memories for me.

It was an honour for me to be invited to bring my new play, Kunene and the King, to the Swan, and to be part of the RSC’s 2019 Season. Working with my friend Sir Antony Sher is truly one of the highlights of my career as an artist.

The play is a review of South Africa’s 25 years of democracy; our successes and our failures in creating a united, non-racial, just and democratic society. In South Africa and in the UK, audiences will have an opportunity to look into the mirror of life and see themselves. I hope they will like what they see.”

Antony Sher said, “Working with John Kani is an honour.  He is one of my heroes - both as an actor and an anti-apartheid activist. Performing a two-hander with him is particularly special, remembering those legendary two-handers he did with Winston Ntshona: Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (1972) and The Island (1973).  This will be my third RSC production directed by Janice Honeyman after Hello and Goodbye in 1988 and the RSC’s 2009 co-production of The Tempest, with the Baxter Theatre, featuring John Kani as Caliban. She is, quite simply, one of the best directors I know.

Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, said, “Our productions exist within a global culture: we love to share our work from Stratford-upon-Avon with audiences across the UK and around the world. The RSC has had a long relationship with theatre colleagues in South Africa. In 2006, Janet Suzman brought her co-production of Hamlet from the Baxter Theatre to the Complete Works Festival, in which John Kani played the role of Claudius. In 2009, a co-production of The Tempest, with the Baxter Theatre, directed by Janice Honeyman, with John Kani as Caliban and Antony Sher as Prospero, inspired John to write Kunene and the King, a co-production with the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town and Eric Abraham.

I am delighted that London audiences will have the opportunity to experience this timely and important piece of work in one of the very theatres in which John Kani and Winston Ntshona first performed their seminal play, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, in 1974. Both Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island helped changed attitudes in South Africa and in the world about apartheid. Twenty-five years on from South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, this remarkable new play continues to ask important questions about South Africa’s past, present and its hopes for the future”.

Daniel Galloway, Managing Director and Producer at the Fugard Theatre, said, “John Kani’s critically important new play comes at a time when a 25-year-old, democratic South Africa is at a crossroads. The play is an important vehicle which enables a deeper, better understanding of each other and enables that ultimate goal of acceptance across our common humanity in our beautiful country. The Fugard Theatre as a collective is enormously proud of our very first collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. What a remarkable debut on the West End for the Fugard Theatre, which coincides with our 10th birthday celebrations in 2020.”

Kunene and the King follows the story of Jack Morris (Antony Sher), a terminally ill sixty-five-year-old white actor living a relatively comfortable life in the suburbs of Johannesburg, and Lunga Kunene (John Kani), a sixty-nine-year-old black retired male nurse. Having suffered innumerable losses during apartheid, Lunga must learn to deal with the tension that more than fifty years of apartheid has created whilst Jack’s health rapidly deteriorates.

The production has been designed by Birrie Le Roux, with lighting by Mannie Manim, music by Neo Muyanga and sound by Jonathan Ruddick.

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For further information on Kunene and the King, please contact Bethany Arnold (Media and Communications Officer) on (0)208 016 5016 or email 

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Booking information

Kunene and the King
24 Jan – 28 Mar 2020
Ambassadors Theatre, London
Tickets available via the RSC Box Office: 01789 331111
A limited number of £5 tickets will be available for those aged between 16 and 25 years old
Monday 7 October                     Major Supporters, Production Circle, Artists Circle, Gold                                                     and Silver Patrons – 10am
Tuesday 8 October                    Bronze Patrons – 10am
Wednesday 9 October               Members – 10am
Thursday 10 October                 Subscribers – 10am
                                                   ATG Theatrecard Holders (via ATG) – 10am
Friday 11 October                      Public Booking – 10am



Monday to Saturday at 7:30pm

Wednesday matinee at 3:00pm

Saturday matinee at 3:00pm

First Preview                             Friday 24 January at 7:30pm
Press Night                               Wednesday 29 January at 7:30pm
Final Performance                     Saturday 28 March at 7:30pm
Audio Described                       Saturday 21 March at 3pm
Captioned Performance             Saturday 29 February at 3pm



Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

The RSC Access programme is supported by Virgin Media as part of its commitment to transform lives through digital technology, ensuring everyone has access to theatre.

The RSC Acting Companies are generously supported by The Gatsby Charitable Foundation and The Kovner Foundation.

The work of the RSC Literary Department is generously supported by The Drue and H.J. Heinz II Charitable Trust.

The Fugard Theatre would like to thank Simon Ruddick for his support.



The Royal Shakespeare Company creates theatre at its best, made in Stratford-upon-Avon and shared around the world.  We produce an inspirational artistic programme each year, setting Shakespeare in context, alongside the work of his contemporaries and today’s writers. 

We have trained generations of the very best theatre makers and we continue to nurture the talent of the future. We encourage everyone to enjoy a lifelong relationship with Shakespeare and live theatre.  We reach 530,000 children and young people annually through our education work, transforming their experiences in the classroom, in performance and online.

Everyone at the RSC - from actors to armourers, musicians to technicians - plays a part in creating the world you see on stage.  All our productions begin life at our Stratford workshops and theatres and we bring them to the widest possible audience through our touring, residencies, live broadcasts and online activity. So wherever you experience the RSC, you experience work made in Shakespeare’s home town.  Registered charity no. 212481

About the Fugard Theatre

The 320-seater Fugard Theatre and the 120-seat Fugard Studio Theatre is located within the historic Sacks Futeran building in Cape Town’s District Six, with the renovated Congregational Church Hall in Caledon Street as its entrance. Construction of The Fugard Theatre was underwritten by its founding producer Eric Abraham, who continues to underwrite the operational costs.

Athol Fugard is one of South Africa’s most significant and internationally acclaimed playwright. For over fifty years he has written soul-searing plays with roles for all South Africans which have moved audiences in South Africa and around the world to laughter and tears as they reflected the racism, barbarity and inhumanity of apartheid. Working with John Kani, the late Zakes Mokae and many others he created iconic black characters whose narratives profoundly changed the way millions of people viewed apartheid.  In his over thirty plays Athol Fugard champions truth and a fundamental universal humanity. In 2011 he received the ultimate recognition from one of the world’s most prestigious theatre communities - a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre.

The Fugard Theatre is proud to bear his name and will honour him by providing a crucible of creativity and beacon of humanity for all South Africans regardless of race, colour, gender or creed. The Fugard Theatre is proud too to be located in District 6 and honours the history and memory of that vibrant community which was so savagely uprooted during the apartheid era.

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