Sizwe Banzi is Dead - MAST Mayflower Review

 Sizwe Banzi is Dead is a play originally created in 1972 in Cape Town, South Africa before transferring to London and New York. Named one of the best plays ever made by The Independent, it has now been brought to a 2023 audience by actor/director John Pfumojena in association with Mayflower Made. With its premiere taking place at Mast Mayflower Studios, before embarking on a short UK tour, I was so fortunate to be invited to experience this version of the classic Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona play. 

The story opens in Gquberta (previously Port Elizabeth) during Apartheid Africa, 1970. The world is different yet similar to the one that we know, with people persecuted for the colour of their skin and dictacted to where they can work and live by the origin of their birth. You are introduced to Styles (John Pfumojena) a young, hungry entrepreneur who dreams of leaving his mundane life in the Ford factory to pursue his love of photography. As you see his life unfold and flourish in the town he calls home, you are introduced to Sizwe Banzi (Wisdom Iheoma). Banzi is a man who just wants to work and provide for his family, but after being given his marching orders to return home, he must decide whether stealing another man’s identity for a financially secure future is worth sacrificing his own identity. 

Both Pfumojema and Iheoma are utterly brilliant in their performances. Hitting the perfect amount of humour, sincerity, class, and conviction. They embodied each character they portrayed on stage and allowed this 90min show to fly. Both actors show fragility in a show that puts a spotlight on how discrimination, racism, and political tensions can affect human lives. How those that have power forget those on the ground. And with a poignant ending with projections of refugees, it’s easy to see how this tale from 50 years ago is still so relevant today. 

I adored the set and the clever use of minimal props and lighting. With the flick of a switch you were soon in a bar, in a home, in a photography studio. The paired back staging allowed you to truly understand the depth of the story and the humour woven in allowed moments of light amongst the seriousness that underlies the play. Even when the fourth wall was broken, the whole audience was truly transfixed with what was going on and you could see that an emotional connection was there between actor and audience. 

Sizwe Banzi is Dead is an important and beautiful play. One that is sadly relevant across generations, but one that blends humour and sincerity to create storytelling that is unforgettable and compelling for all who see it. For two actors to create such a wonderful show is incredible and a must watch for anyone that needs to see something special in their lives. 

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