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Apartheid's legacy dissected in 'thought provoking, hugely entertaining' masterpiece

Kunene And The King, Swan Theatre, Stratford, to April 23.

It all comes down to a moment in the final scene when carer Lunga Kunene angrily confronts Jack Morris, the dying white actor he's been hired to nurse. You got your protection from the smooth transition from apartheid to democracy, he shouts, but did I get a better future?

It's a question left hanging in this compelling take on the realities of life in contemporary South Africa, twenty-five years after Nelson Mandela became President.

Both men have good cause to rage - Kunene against the injustice that did not allow him to become a doctor with a powerful sense of mission to help his fellow citizens in Soweto, Morris at the injustice of a disease that is going to stop him playing King Lear, in the greatest of Shakespeare's plays. And the relationship between them, initially shot through with naked hostility, remains never less than awkward.

Yet there is humour, and pathos too, in the way this odd couple rub up against each other. Writer John Kani, who plays Kunene, draws plenty of laughter from the audience as he reflects on the parallels between their two cultures, while Antony Sher's beautifully judged study in defiant disintegration gives Jack Morris an oddly attractive appeal.

Enhanced by a light touch from director Janice Honeyman and some terrific township music played and sung live by Lungiswa Plaatjies, this is a hugely entertaining, as well as a thought-provoking, theatrical experience thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation accorded to Kani and Sher as they took a second curtain call.

After its world premiere at Stratford, Kunene And The King heads for the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town later this month. You don't have long to catch it.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC. John Kani (left) and Antony Sher.

Jan Malatesta adds: This is a show not to be missed, with excellent performances from Kani and Sher showing each other’s viewpoint 25 years after apartheid, but with South Africa still struggling with division and injustice.

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