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WOZA ALBERT! (article first published : 2006-08-30)

Whatever you do in the next ten days or so, don’t miss Woza Albert! at the Catalina where two 18 year-old high school learners from DHS – Thabani Sibiya and Khayo Mthembu - are putting in fine performances of a professional standard in the classic South African piece written by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema, Barney Simon in 1979.

The director is Shaun Gray, DHS drama educator, who is fast becoming a director to be reckoned with on the Durban theatre scene after his presentation of Waiting for Godot at the same venue in April. Remaining true to the original script, Shaun has drawn the required multitude of characters from his actors and the result is a fast-paced theatre piece of which the original writers would be justly proud. Some 12 years after democracy, the text is still relevant and accessible and remains as a Speech and Drama Grade 12 setwork in KwaZulu-Natal.

The multi-award winning Woza Albert! is a satirical and highly humorous piece that deals with the second coming of Christ and the impact this would have on all levels of society in the apartheid South Africa of the time.

The audience first meets the two characters in prison enduring prison food, health and security checks and irritating cell mates who disturb a decent night’s sleep. Then follows an energetic and meandering storyline as they become labourers, old men, soldiers, vendors, barbers, policemen and construction workers. The restrictions of the dreaded pass laws affect their lives and heaven looks inviting because “it’s crap down here!”

Christ (Morena) appears to certain of these characters – in particular to a labourer in a brick factory who then ends up as a cemetery attendant. It is here where the title comes into play as the labourer responds to Morena’s wish to find the grave of Lazarus but suggests that he might better use his divine energies to raise the heroes of the struggle … one of which is Albert Luthuli. Hence … “Woza Albert!”

I was extremely impressed by Thabani Sibiya, DHS’s Head Boy who also appeared in Shaun Gray’s 2004 presentation of Woza Albert!, and Khayo Mthembu. I had to keep reminding myself that they are still at school - and in the middle of writing trials. With their focus and sustained performances they could hold their own against most of the professional actors in this town and hopefully they will go on to extend their talents in tertiary education.

The play is full of robust humour, quick scenes in the early stages and some very clever lines. It requires a strong level of physical theatre and Thabani and Khayo handle all this with ease. The only problem I had – and it’s my consistent problem with this venue – is that the extractor fan drowns out much of Khayo’s finer and more sensitive moments which would really lose their dramatic value if they had to be bellowed to cope with the extractor noise. So when you see it – as you must - make sure you insist on sitting on the side nearest the entrance!

Woza Albert! runs until September 10 at the Catalina Theatre. Bookings on 031 305 6889. Don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart




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