Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A two-hander about the coming of the Messiah to apartheid era South Africa with all its evils. Originally produced by the Market Theatre of Johannesburg and revived her by them and Assembly.Two actors play literally dozens of parts that involve both their considerable skills in acting, mime, song and dance.
Woza Albert is arguably the most famous South Africa play, if not of all time definitely, then of the apartheid era. Its themes are universal using the device of the Messiah’s second coming to show the iniquities of that now dead political system of segregation.
The first part of the play sets the scene of where and when we are, highlighting the Pass Laws that stopped black South Africans from moving around the country to work freely. We see the almost semi-level of slavery that meant ‘bosses’ could hire and fire at their will. Once this background is set we move to a form of vox populi with characters views of the impending visit of Morena (the Second Coming).
The humour in the writing of this section is rich even in the face of the adversity with which the characters live. The cast sketch each character they inhabit brilliantly.
As the play continues it becomes more sinister yet retains a deep vein of humour. Morena is in the country and the story begins to follow that of Jesus (feted by some, imprisoned by others). Morena is taken to Robben Island at one point only to escape by walking over the water.
In the end we have the resurrection and the raising of the dead (in this case heroes lost during the fight against apartheid such as Steve Biko).
The action is played out on a set bare, save for a box and a clothes rail. The lighting remains in almost a natural state throughout and the actors start and end the play in nothing but baggy off-white trousers. It is down to the sheer skill of the two actors that you remain completely engaged throughout the entire 90 minutes.
In itself it is such a physical play and both actors demonstrate an almost hypnotic power in their movement and narrative whether portraying a toothless old man threading a needle, the squirming boy at a street barber’s, or even the gyrating blades of a helicopter.
Political theatre by its very nature is responsive to the world it is written in. Sometimes you come across that rare creature of a political piece written in a specific era whose themes still resonate today such as Buchner’s Dantons Death. This play though still powerful is a piece of its time and it is the sheer mastery of the actors that lifts it from ok to something special.