Kunene and the King at Fugard Theatre Cape Town

Last night’s production of Kunene and the King was masterful! Two seasoned actors presented powerful performances capturing the audience’s full attention. John Kani’s new play presents the deep pent-up emotions of South Africans before and after the end of apartheid 25 years ago. It gets to the heart of things with no holds barred.

Fugard Theatre – Cape Town Magazine

My first visit to South Africa was in 1987 – before the end of apartheid. Since then, I’ve returned often and noted many changes. In reflection, Kani’s play seems a racial and political catharsis. At the end, the sold-out house seemed almost stunned. Some had tears in their eyes in reaction to the honest emotions so vividly portrayed – anger, hatred, fear, compassion, hope….

John Kani and Antony Sher Kunene and the King – Ellie Kurtz

Background

Kunene and the King premiered during April in England at The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The performance last night was a co-production between The Fugard Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. The play reunites “the powerhouse team of director Janice Honeyman, writer, actor, activist, playwright John Kani, and world-renowned classical actor Sir Antony Sher“.

_____________

Kunene and the King “beautifully captures the complex divides of race, class, and politics in a remarkable, moving new play”. Michael Billington, The Guardian

_____________

Janice Honeyman Director – Media Update

Plot

Kani’s play is a “fitting tribute to mark the anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections after apartheid”. In the play Kani and Sher play two elderly men “from contrasting walks of life thrust together to reflect on a quarter century of change”. In Kani’s words – “Their relationship examines the very foundation on which our democracy is built.”

Lungiswa Plaatjies Musician, Singer, Composer – Sarafina Magazine

John Kani is Lunga Kunene, “a headstrong African male nurse contracted to care for cantankerous white actor Jack Morris, Antony Sher”. Jack is coping with terminal liver cancer and determined to play King Lear before he dies. To pass time, Lunga helps Jack practice lines for his role in Shakespeare’s play. During their crass and edgy interactions, they mellow, get to know each other, and develop an unlikely friendship.

Kunene and the King – Royal Shakespeare Company

_____________

Kunene only knows Julius Caesar from his school days, because “it’s about a failed conspiracy, and at the time one play was considered enough Shakespeare for a native child”.

_____________

King Lear – Bookrepublic

As Kunene learns the plot, he shares his disappointment that King Lear failed to “consult ancestors” – something an African would do. Kunene compares the characteristics of King Lear’s three daughters Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia to South African Presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and Jacob Zuma. True to form, Jack snaps back reminding him that King Lear is an English play, not African.

Fugard Theatre – Jesse Kate Kramer Photography

Talented actors, directors, designers, and managers all contributed to the unforgettable production. Lungiswa Plaatjies‘ on-stage singing in isiXhosa is glorious.

Kunene and the King – facebook

Kani and Sher

John Kani and Anthony Sher share a love of Shakespeare. Like the characters they play, the have vastly different backgrounds. Kani grew up in the Eastern Cape while Sher, the child of an affluent Jewish family, is from Sea Point.

Accomplished Kani began acting in high school. He met fellow activist, actor, playwright, and director Athol Fugard in the 1960s. After touring, teaching, and performing in the US and Australia, Kani returned to South Africa in the 1970s. At that time during the Black Consciousness Movement, he experienced the brutal injustices of apartheid and had a rocky relationship with South African police.

Kunene and the King Antony Sher – rsc.org

_____________

“Kunene and Jack need to shake their habit of treating the other as a specimen: one of ‘you people’, white or black. This isn’t always easy.” TheatreCat Libby Purves

_____________

Sir Anthony Sher Actor – BBC

Kani has received recognition and awards for his work, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Cape Town and a South African Film and Television Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, he’s executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, director of the Market Theatre Laboratory, and Chairman of the National Arts Council of South Africa.

Athol Fugard Playwright, Novelist, Actor, and Director – Richard Corman Photography

At 19, Antony Sher left South Africa and moved to London to begin an acting career. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982. Three years later he won the Laurence Olivier Best Actor award for his performance in the title role of Richard III. In 1997, Sher won a second Olivier for his portrayal of Stanley Spencer in Stanley.

Fugard Theatre Foyer – TravelGround.com

Sher became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000. He met his partner, Gregory Doran, in London. Doran is Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

John Kani Playwright, Activist, Actor – The South African / Image Zalebs

_____________

“Kani’s writing remains deeply incisive, full of both anger and understanding…” Dave Fargnoli, The Stage

_____________

Kunene and the King John Kani and Antony Sher – The New York Times

I’m privileged to have attended Kunene and the King – there’s much to learn from the play. It was a magnificent performance and memorable evening.

National Women’s Day

Albertina Sisulu Anti-Apartheid Activist

Since 1994, August 9th in South Africa is known as National Women’s Day. It’s a public holiday commemorating the march of 20,000 South African women on August 9, 1956 against apartheid movement restrictions requiring Africans to carry “passes”.

Frances Baard Monument Kimberley South Africa

These brave women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest government amendments to the Urban Areas Act (pass laws) of 1950. The women left petitions containing over 100,000 signatures at Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom‘s office doors while they stood silently outside for 30 minutes.

Helen Joseph – Teacher, Social Worker, Anti-Apartheid Activist

Many of the women had their babies and young children with them. Those who were nannies for white families brought their white charges along. Protestors composed a special song in honor of the march – Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo – which means “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” Fifty-five years later South Africans refer to the song as “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.” The march and song represent the courage and strength of South African women.

Sophia Williams-DeBruyn – Founder South African Congress of Trade Union (SACTU)

Four brave anti-apartheid activists organized and led the marchers – Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. South African trade unionist Frances Baard also played an important role in the protest. In 2009, Hazel Jenkins, the Premier of the Northern Cape, unveiled a Monument in honor of Frances Baard in Kimberley on National Women’s Day . In 2006, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the women’s march, many of the 1956 veterans reenacted the original protest march.

Lilian Ngoyi  Anti-Apartheid Activist

South Africans have many notable women leaders and role models who inspire their nation. The former Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, is known as one of the country’s most colorful opposition leaders. Her past positions include member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance political party, and the former Mayor of Cape Town. Helen Zille worked with the Black Sash and is a former journalist and anti-apartheid activist. While working for the Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail in the late 1970s, she exposed the truth behind the death of Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko.

Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town

The current mayor of Cape Town is Patricia de Lille. In 2003, she founded the Independent Democrats, a South African political party. In 2010, the party merged with the Democratic Alliance “as part of a plan to challenge the governing African National Congress (ANC)”. In 2014, the Independent Democrats disbanded as a separate political organization.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Anti-Apartheid Activist and Ex-wife of Nelson Mandela

Helen Zille Former Premier of the Western Cape

3 of Zuma’s Wives – Thobeka Mabhija, Nompumelelo Ntuli, Sizakele Khumalo

womens day Francis Baard

Francis Baard South African Trade Unionist

Hazel Jenkins Former Premier of the Northern Cape