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Blantyre finally samples ‘Woza Albert’

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Woza Albert is a top production.

This is a political satire play that opened at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre in South Africa and toured in Europe and America as the most successful piece to come out of South Africa.

Woza Albert has won more than 20 prestigious awards worldwide according to available information.

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The play has been adapted by several theatre groups and the country has not been left out.

The past years has seen the play being staged by actors Edge Kanyongolo and Viphya Harawa.

And for some of those who saw them star in the play in the 1980s including Blantyre-based Dan Masauli, the two were simply in the class of their own.

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Fast-forward to today, International Alliance for Umunthu Theatre, a group made up of former Chancellor College Travelling Theatre members, decided to adapt Woza Albert as well. What a challenge for them.

Their first outing with the play was at Madsoc Theatre in Lilongwe before moving to HS Winehouse in Blantyre on Friday.

On a cold Friday night, theatre lovers including Masauli and ethno-musician and actor Waliko Makhala invaded HS Winehouse to sample the production.

Starring Bright Chayachaya and Fletcher Chelewani, the play directed by Kellie Chikoko imagines the second coming of Christ in apartheid-ridden South Africa.

Not an easy feat to star in a two-man production but Chayachaya and Chelewani tried their level best and engaged the audience throughout.

Just like the original play, Chayachaya and Chelewani play roles of various black South Africans – a vendor, barber, servant, manual labourer, soldier – receiving the news that Christ (Morena) has arrived in South Africa, where a Calvinist white elite imposes apartheid.

Making it relevant to the present day, the theatre group breathed some life into the play colouring it with Chichewa songs among other things.

They made sure they did not dilute the production with the new stuff although they still could have done better to improve it.

The actors did well-no doubt about that, but some energy was still lacking in them, especially with the play demanding a lot of that. They also could have added more meat in the production.

Masauli congratulated International Alliance for Umunthu Theatre on bringing back to the stage the production.

“It reminds me of apartheid era in South Africa. I watched the play in the 1980s if not 1970s. Viphya Harawa and Edge Kanyongolo performed it with the Travelling Theatre, so today it is just a reminder of those days,” he said.

Masauli said Harawa and Kanyongolo were superb and in a class of their own.

“The two were masters in the game, no doubt about that. The two actors I have seen today are not bad, they have tried but they need to do more. Something was still missing and they need to polish some scenes,” he said.

He said the country’s drama was growing but was quick to point out that some veteran actors need to come out of retirement and work with the current generation to perfect some of the productions and also direct some of the plays.

Chayachaya said it was a challenging experience for them especially as performing to a new audience.

“The response from the audience was nice and this has motivated us to do more. As we have been saying, as a group, we are here to stay and we will look at producing more productions. All we need is the support and we are committed to doing theatre,” he said.

Chelewani said they adapted the play because it has similar problems people are facing on the ground.

HS Winehouse owner Wilkins Mijiga said theatre is good for the mind and that they will continue to host performances every Friday.

Woza Albert (which means Rise Albert) was written by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon in 1981.

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