It’s 2019, 25 years after the first post-apartheid democratic election in South Africa and two men from contrasting walks of life are thrown together to reflect on the years of change.
When renowned actor Jack Morris is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, his carer Lunga Kunene arrives to move into his house for full-time care. At first their contrasting backgrounds means they struggle to get on, but through time they develop a friendship as their conversation delves into life, politics, racism and inequality. It’s a poignant and eye-opening production written exquisitely by John Kani, who also takes on the role of Lunga Kunene.
Antony Sher plays the role of Jack Morris who is determined to get over his illness as he is scheduled to play the role of King Lear in Cape Town. He has a deep love for Shakespeare and is constantly dwelling on his career as an actor.
This two-hander is incredibly clever as not only does it authentically display the growing connection between these two men as they become friends, but it delves into a huge stretch of history. As Kunene tells the story of his dreams but struggle to get there because of the conditions he had growing up. Whilst without realising, Jack appears oblivious to his easy life as he reflects the attitudes of white privilege.
Mainly set in the intimacy of Jack’s living room, the set is intricately designed by Birrie Le Roux to really give you a glimpse into Jack’s life. Scattered with books, plays and papers, it’s evident he has dedicated his life to theatre and Shakespeare. The Swan is already a superb space but this set really feels as if you’re right in the action throughout these characters’ journeys.
Lunga Kunene is very patient with Jack’s obnoxious nature and as Jack begins to trust Kunene, he starts to listen. Lunga becomes more and more honest as the play progresses and their friendship grows, and there is a really powerful moment when he talks about the “better future” these South Africans were promised but are still waiting for.
There are some really beautiful moments in this play, one being when Kunene explains his love for Shakespeare with Jack and is in awe of his talents. They read a play together, Jack in English and Kunene in his native language. It’s a really touching moment to see these two people connect over something exactly the same but in different languages through their own cultures.
I didn’t know what to expect from this play, whether it would be a history lesson or political drama. But it is a seriously phenomenal piece of theatre that packs a real punch. Both actors are breath-taking at their craft, but the writing paints a portrait of this unlikely friendship in the most moving way. Their chemistry together is electric and I found myself howling with laughter at their back and forth banter.
One minute I was belly-laughing and the next I had tears streaming down my face. John Kani and Antony Sher draw you into their story, providing food for thought in a beautifully entertaining way. It’s a completely consuming piece of theatre that is both thought-provoking and will tug on the heart strings.
Kunene and The King is on at the Swan Theatre in the RSC until the 23rd of April, tickets and information can be found on their website.