BWW Reviews: SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, May 20, 2014
Eclipse Theatre Company's production of the Tony Award-winning Sizwe Banzi is Dead is currently on a brief national tour after its Young Vic run. The 95-minute one-act play focuses on the lives of two men - Styles and Sizwe Banzi - in apartheid-era South Africa. The first half is primarily a monologue from Tonderai Munyevu's Styles, an optimistic and funny character who maintains a positive demeanour whilst also being able to take a cynical swipe at the social and cultural structures he's forced to operate within. The second half is much darker in tone, both thematically and visually, as we learn the story of Sizwe Banzi (Sibusiso Mamba). Banzi's story is told partly as monologue and partly as a two-hander with Munyevu taking the role of his new-found friend and confidant Buntu.
The performances from both actors are excellent. Munyevu manages to maintain a high energy level throughout in both roles and, at times, having to deliver some very fast and rather complicated dialogue. Mamba's performance of Banzi demonstrates both a grasp of comedy and tragedy as his character stands on the edge of a decision that, one way or another, will have a profound and potentially devastating effect on his life.
The play offers an interesting meditation on what it means to be a man, to work and to develop a sense of identity and purpose in a world where you face restrictions, oppression and regulation at every turn. However, in places the audience has to reach a bit to connect the theme of the two narratives - the play, considered as a whole, is perhaps not quite the sum of its two parts - although each part is engaging in its own right (perhaps in this regard it suffers from the lack of an interval). However, the quality of the writing is clear - it contains some fantastic lines, some moments of real humour and some of real pathos. Scenes that very quickly turn from comedy to tragedy and vice versa are deflty handled here by the Eclipse team (direction here comes from Matthew Xia).
Very occasionally the speed at which lines are delivered, particularly as the performers run across the stage, means some lines become a little lost. The segregation of the audience into 'whites' and 'non-whites' also seems a bit too crude - the play communicates its messages powerfully enough in its own right.
It is not, then, a perfect play, but the production is very well staged, with atmospheric lighting and engaging central performances, and there is certainly enough of interest here to make it worth seeing if it tours near you.
Sizwe Banzi is Dead is at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield, until 24 May and on tour nationally until 14 June. Details here.