Written by South African actor, activist and playwright John Kani (Black Panther, The Island, Sizwe Banzi is Dead), this refreshingly funny and vital new play is directed by Janice Honeyman (Vice Versa; The Tempest, 2009), with exceptionally moving performances from fellow South African Antony Sher (King Lear, 2016 & 2018; Death of a Salesman) and John Kani; live music and vocals are by Anna Mudeka who completes the company.
Set on the 25th anniversary of the first post-apartheid democratic elections, Kunene and the King explores the last quarter of a century of change in South Africa. It’s a refreshing and powerful play, reflecting on one of the country’s historic moments.
The play follows two protagonists at different ends of the socio-cultural spectrum. Jack Morris is a white, celebrated actor in South Africa, preparing to play one of his most important career-defining roles - the lead in King Lear. But after accepting it, he discovers he has liver cancer. Not wanting to stay in hospital, a black South African nurse Lunga Kunene is hired to look after him at home. As the two men interact and reflect on politics of their country, we explore their different cultures and experiences of the last 25 years.
Following its premiere at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019, Kunene and the King sold out tickets during its run in Cape Town, returning to London afterwards for a limited run. It is co-produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and hailed for its incredible direction by Janice Honeyman, effective set design and impressive lighting. Both Kani, who performed in the show and fellow South African actor Antony Sher (King Lear, Death of a Salesman) excited audiences by bringing two diverse characters to life. The play further received rave reviews for its ability to interlace comedy with poignancy, telling a story that moves you to tears and laughter.
There may be some scenes unsuitable for young viewers, with strong language and sensitive themes. There is also use of strobe lighting for audiences to be aware of.