WOZA ALBERT! Review. Performed by the original cast: Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa. Directed by Christopher John. Baxter Flipside.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
Dear bras Mbongeni and Percy,
What a truly unique experience you gave me last night. I am still trying to process the feelings of sadness, joy, hope, nostalgia, bitterness and awe after a masterclass in performance and intention that blew me away. Woza Albert! Woza!
See, I was in standard 9 in 1981, when I filed into the tiny Laager Theatre at the Market Theatre complex in Joburg, not knowing what to expect. I sat in the front row with my father, who had brought me to the theatre, and I remained glued to my seat as the two of you, so close that when you jumped, I was showered with sweat drops, told me a story I had never heard before. You weaved this story of pain, anger and frustration. This story of black lives under white rule, of a madness that could only have been real because it was true. I was put under the spell of theatre that night, and I have never been released from it.
Brought into the present tense like an electric shock
So, I was nervous last night; full of anticipation and worry. I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like seeing you perform Woza Albert! again. I have seen other productions of this work, but I never imagined seeing you two on the stage, thirty eight years later. I thought about my own aging body and how I would manage the work I did almost forty years ago. I imagined how time must surely have changed this story and taken away its most urgent sting; that the story would live in memory rather than the present day. I remembered the red nosed whiteys and how it was the very first time I had seen black artists be white people and not the other way around.
When you came onto stage I was brought into the present tense like an electric shock. I sat entranced, laughing, crying, shaking my head, amazed at both the immediacy of the work and the memory of it. The sewing on of buttons, Bobbejaan, the train, the policemen, the meat seller, the sirens, the helicopter, the promise of Morena, the betrayal. This is both a visit and a revisit. Of course, it cannot be the same as that first time, and it shouldn’t be, but there is something heart breaking and magnificent about seeing you tell this story again, all these years later.
Once again, I was transfixed. Once again, I was moved to tears. Once again, I caught myself singing the songs, under my breath. Once again, I was brought to my feet in awe and appreciation.
PS. It was wonderful to see my old friend, your stage manager, Dixon. Dixon, you made all the years disappear last night.
What: Woza Albert! review
Where and when: Baxter Theatre from 5 February to 2 March 2019