Theatre legend revives celebrated classic with son

Theatre legend revives celebrated classic with son

Following its resounding success in the United States earlier this year, the South African theatre classic ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’, directed by John Kani and starring Mncedisi Shabangu and Atandwa Kani, will be opening at the Baxter Flipside in the forthcoming week on Wednesday, August 19, and will be running until September 12 at 7.30pm nightly.

Forty years since Kani and Winston Ntshona won the Best Actor Tony Award for their performances in the play, which they co-created with Athol Fugard, and nearly a decade after the two theatre veterans reprised their roles at the Baxter in 2006, Kani returns as director, with his son in the role which he made famous.

The iconic production about the universal struggle for human dignity tells the story of a black man in apartheid-era South Africa who tries to overcome oppressive work regulations to support his family. The new production was originally produced by the Market Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center and Syracuse Stage and was performed in Johannesburg, Princeton and Syracuse in the US.

Mannie Manim, producer and lighting designer, has been involved with the production since the late 1970s.

Kani and Ntshona performed the play in South Africa, England and on Broadway, where they jointly won the coveted Tony Awards for Best Actor. In 1976 they were arrested by the Apartheid Secret Police and were detained in solitary confinement for 23 days. They were only released because of massive demonstrations by the arts fraternity all over the world.

“‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ became a statement that articulated the anger of black people against these laws,” says the triple Honourary Doctorate recipient, Kani. “It’s about the universal struggle of identity, of the dignity of the human being, and respect for humanity.”

“Winston, Athol and I were like Drs Frankenstein creating a monster that has occupied our lives for more than four decades. When Syracuse and Princeton Theatres asked me to revive this production I was very elated. It gave me the opportunity to work with younger South African actors who were not even born when this play was first staged,” adds the celebrated theatre-maker.

Mncedisi was recently seen in Lara Foot’s ‘Fishers of Hope’ and ‘Tshepang’ while Atandwa was last seen at the Baxter in ‘The Miser’, ‘Hayani’ and ‘The Tempest’.

* Tickets cost R120 (previews, matinee and Baxter Mondays), R130 for Tuesdays to Thursdays and R150 over weekends. The Baxter Monday special applies where patrons pay R120 which includes a meal and the performance.

Booking is through Computicket.