Woza Albert! – October 2007


By: Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema, and Barney Simon

Directed by: Paul Jonathan Savage

Venue: Mill Studio, Guildford

Date: Saturday 27th October 2007

Two black actors sang, danced, spoke and sound-effected their way through this entertaining piece, based on the idea of Jesus Christ coming back and going to South Africa. They had round pink things hanging round their necks (ooh, you are awful), which turned out to be pink noses, so they could “white up” at a moment’s notice and play the non-black characters as well. They started off with a representation of a jazz band – very lively, very good, then we got to meet the characters we’ll be following through the play. Mbongeni, a Zulu with a preference for dancing over work, and Percy, who sings hymns in his sleep and believes Jesus is watching over him and everyone else. They used Jesus’ African name, Morena, throughout the play, but we got who they meant.

These characters, and a host of others, show us how Jesus would be treated if he had returned during South Africa’s apartheid period. Many black folk were seen to be waiting for his return, wanting things like jobs, bricks, and even a lollipop – that one was a young girl. The white folk were smug at first, reckoning his return made them look important, but then they decided his message wasn’t so useful, so first they imprisoned him, and then they tried to bomb him, but only ended up smashing Cape Town to smithereens. They’d forgotten that the Archangels were at His beck and call, so Gabriel kept springing him out of prison, even Robben Island, where they apparently had anti-angel missiles.

Finally, Christ wakes up in a cemetery, where Mbongeni is now working, and to keep his hand in, decides to revive a few corpses. Mbongeni takes him round to all the dead black leaders – Albert Luthuli, Steve Biko, etc – and he wakes them with a call of “Woza Albert” (or whatever). When Jesus spots the grave of Verwoerd, he’s about to woza him as well, but Mbongeni steers him away, understandably.

Apart from the amazing energy and talents of the two actors, what impressed me most was the amount of humour they were getting out of some appalling situations. Even at the time it must have been funny, and I guess it just shows how important it is to keep laughing through even the bleakest times. I didn’t feel uncomfortable about laughing, just surprised. I’ve learned a lot about humour this week (see Parade), and it’s all good.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Fiddler On The Roof – October 2007


Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Directed by: Lindsay Posner

Venue: Savoy Theatre

Date: Saturday 27th October 2007

This was only ever going to be 10/10, from long before it started. I was sobbing before the opening music, as Steve reminded me of the signature image of the fiddler on the roof (trust him not to have seen the film, not know who was in it apart from Topol, but to remember the name of the fiddler!) and that set me off. Sorry about this, it’s been an emotional afternoon, and I’m still recovering.

This was absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to get up to London and check out the ticket availability (half-price ticket booth, of course). Henry Goodman as Tevye was superb. It’s a part he was born to play, and from what we know of him, he’ll have thrown himself into it body and soul. It shows. He was a huge presence on stage, not drowning out the others, but always holding it together, keeping us involved, and giving us most of the laughs. Even the smallest change of expression came across back in row P. And his singing voice was a revelation. His range was wider than I expected, sort of a bass-baritone, and it was wonderfully rich and expressive. Of course, we bought the cast recording, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to appreciate it again.

All of the cast were good, of course, and the energy they put into this performance was amazing. I only wish they could have a space like the Olivier to show off their talents even more, as occasionally the Savoy stage looked a little cramped. I know it’s meant to be a small village, but this is make-believe, after all. The set was all tattered wooden slats and beams. The revolve came in handy to change the setting quickly, but there was still a lot of table and chair shifting to do. Fortunately, there was  always some music to keep us engrossed, so the momentum was never lost.

What else can I say? There were lots of laughs, some great dancing, the fiddler was very good (dancing-wise), the orchestra were fine, the dream sequence vivid and highly amusing, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, with occasional intervals. I wasn’t the only one enjoying it, either, as we gave Tevye a standing ovation at the end, and would have carried on applauding if there hadn’t been one of those charity appeals to do. Henry Goodman managed it very well, including an impromptu comment about accidents after a loud thump came from off-stage, and we all went away happy, and singing to ourselves. Happy day.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me