This is the true and inspiring, but also tragic story of Ezekiel Dlamini, who got the nickname of King Jong because of his power and strength. He was a magnificent boxer who ruled Sophiatown and the “Non-European” boxing world in South Africa in the Verwoerd-era, but he eventually self-destructed. This musical pays tribute to him and takes us on a journey of his life and tragic demise, while also focusing on the Sophiatown of 1959 – 1961 in which he functioned and played such an important romantic and fighting role.
It is a magnificent and colourful production, full of virile energy, township beats, beautiful rhythms and electrifying dance sequences. The stage is set alight by the infectious rhythms of the jazz era and other music that dominated Sophiatown at the time, but also flirts with the township tunes that had such an inspiring and emotional influence on those who were evicted from the suburb shortly afterwards. From the very first soccer scene, leading to cleverly choreographed dancing sequences, to the beat of the ladies celebrating life and love with the people of the city in one of the shebeens in the area, the production sizzles with a vibrancy and urgency that set the stage alight.
The set-design is functional and makes great use of the vast stage that never seems crowded. From the dark-brown houses and stained-brown walls into which the characters seem to melt at the top, to the clever use of the jail bars that often surround the boxer, to the little bar room tables occupying centre stage as the agile dancers move around it, the design is practical and impressive. But, of course, the focus main falls on the charismatic acting and singing, as well as the pulsating dance-sequences in which the dancers move as one.
Special mention should be made of the breath-taking performance and singing of Nondumiso Tembe as the swanky, seductive Joyce, as well as the authoritative boxing sequences and uninhibited dancing of Andile Gumbi as King Kong. And what a voice he has! Sne Dladla as Pop and Lerato Mvelase as Petal also deserve special mention in a cast that is difficult to single out. Each actor and dancer makes a striking contribution to the overall success of the production.
This invigorating stage show will bring many theatre-goers to their feet, as will the fighting choreography and the slick, well-oiled directing by Jonathan Munby, as well as the choreography of Gregory Maqoma.
This is a production that deserves to be seen and will dazzle and impress. Strongly recommended.
Leon van Nierop
Venue: Mandela Theatre at Joburg Theatre
Date: On until 8 October
Time: Tue to Sat 8pm | Sun 2pm
Cost: R200 – R400