Woza Albert! – October 2007

6/10

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

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