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Sizwe Banzi is Dead

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. © Richard H Smith
    © Richard H Smith

    Tonderai Munyevu (Styles)

  2. © Richard H Smith
    © Richard H Smith

    Tonderai Munyevu (Styles)

  3. © Richard H Smith
    © Richard H Smith

    Tonderai Munyevu (Buntu)

  4. © Richard H Smith
    © Richard H Smith

    Tonderai Munyevu (Buntu) and Sibusiso Mamba (Sizwe Banzi)

  5. © Richard H Smith
    © Richard H Smith

    Sibusiso Mamba (Sizwe Banzi)


Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

As Nelson Mandela’s legacy, both personal and political, continues to excite controversy, the return of Matthew Xia’s production of ‘Sizwe Banzi Is Dead’ to the Young Vic provides a timely and spiky reminder of how momentous the barriers were that he crossed.

South African playwright Athol Fugard – who devised this play with the actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona in 1972 – was a voice in the dark who refused to stop singing through all apartheid’s ravages.

Through the stripped-back simplicity of his theatre – designed so it could be packed up in a moment should the authorities come snooping – he laid bare the logistical and metaphysical problems of living in an oppressor’s world.

Thanks to the deft comic talents of Tonderai Munyevu, who plays photographer Styles, the first part exudes the fizz of a cabaret turn as he reflects on the absurdities of apartheid. The lively comedy continues when Sibusiso Mamba’s Sizwe Banzi walks into his studio, asking for a portrait to send to his family. But the tone shifts sharply when Banzi and his new drinking friend Buntu (also played by Munyevu) drunkenly stumble across a corpse on the way home.

The central issue of the black person’s dependence on an identity book is exposed for all its cruel absurdity in Banzi’s discussions with Buntu. Banzi’s problem – that he does not have the right stamps to work in Port Elizabeth – seems solved when they realise that the dead man has a book with all the accreditation he needs. The power of Xia’s production is to make the moment when Banzi agrees to give up his name seem to be the selling of his soul for legitimacy. And the power of the play is to reinforce the fact that every day of accepting apartheid was a Faustian pact.


£10-£19.50. Run 1hr 30mins
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