Woza Albert!

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Woza Albert! ("Arise, Albert!") is an improvised political play by Percy Mtwa (1953-), Mbongeni Ngema (1955-) and Barney Simon (1932-1995).

The original text

A full length play devised and improvised by Mtwa and Ngema, who had formed The Earth Players to do so, and facilitated and refined with the help of director/playwright Barney Simon, whom they had invited to help.

The text tells the story of how Christ ("Morena") visits apartheid South Africa, where he is introduced to the lives of ordinary people under the system, and does so by means of powerful mimicry and multiple characterizations by the two performers. In many ways the prototype for, and still one of the very best and most popular, examples of the new improvisational political theatre of the 1980s. An iconic political work, it was not only controversial, but influenced the nature of political theatre-making and the style and careers of a large number of writers and performers, and set up the careers of Mtwa and particularly Ngema as writer/theatre-makers.

The text was first published 1983 by Methuen Publishers, and re-published a number of times since, in 2009 with a new Foreword and notes by Yvette Hutchison and in 2018 with a foreword and notes by Temple Hauptfleisch.

The text has become and one of the most anthologised and produced of all South African plays and a regular prescribed work for study and performance at school and university since the late 1980s.

The play has been published in the following collections:

Duma Ndlovu (ed) 1986. Woza Afrika!: An Anthology of South African Plays. New York: George Braziller, Inc.: pp 3-39.

William B. Branch (Ed and compiler). 1993. Crosswinds: An Anthology of Black Dramatists in the Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press: pp. 96-129.

Martin Banham and Jane Plastow. 1999. Contemporary African Plays, Methuen, (pp. 207-235) ISBN 0-413-72330-5.

Translations, adaptations and spin-offs

Filmed as a program for the BBC TV series Everyman in 1981 (55 min.). Produced by David M. Thompson, with photography by John Goodyear and film editing by William Nicholson. Distributed on VHS by California Newsreel, 1981.

Translated into French as Lève-toi Albert! by Jean-Claude Carrière in 1989.

Lève-toi Albert! 1995. An extract from Woza Albert!, translated into French by Denise Cousy, was published in Les Temps Modernes n°585, novembre-décembre 1995.(French: "Extrait de la pièce Lève-toi Albert! (Woza Albert!, 1981), traduit de l’anglais par Denise Cousy dans Les Temps Modernes n°585, novembre-décembre 1995").

Woza Andries?(also found as Woza Andries!? or Woza Andries!), a free adaptation by Robert Volker, for two white actors and set in the new South Africa. The text then workshopped by TEATERteater's actors with director Christiaan Olwagen. The play met with critical acclaim at the 2010 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Adapted as a play set in 2015 London, using the basic idea and retaining the title Woza Albert!, but now dealing with a cross-section of asylum seekers and British institutional figures who receive news of Jesus' second coming. In crisis, the government first imprisons, and then bombs Jesus. Following the tragedy, legendary refugees like Albert Einstein are resurrected. Adapted and performed by members of the UCLU (University College London Union) Drama Society[1].

Translated into Egyptian by Nassim Ibrahim as ألبرت ووزا in 2014[2].


After opening in Johannesburg, the production embarked on extensive tours for a number of years, according to Percy Tucker (1997, p. 402) eventually playing 23 seasons worldwide, and garnering numerous awards. After 1985, the play was performed by new cast members.

1981: First produced by the Earth Players, and presented in association with The Company, it opened at the Market Theatre on 25 March, directed by Barney Simon, with Percy Mtwa, and Mbongeni Ngema. Lighting by Mannie Manim, production manager Patrick Miller and stage manager Melanie Dobbs.

After a record-breaking tour of South Africa, the play returned to the Market Theatre in October, 1981, now playing in the main venue with Dixon Malele as stage manager. Cast: Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa.

1982: 4-23 January, Concert Hall, Baxter Theatre.

1983: The original Earth Players / The Company production presented at the Empty Space Theatre in Seattle, Washington, and the Ananburg Centre, Philadelphia.

1984/5: The original Earth Players / The Company production presented at the Baxter Concert Hall, Cape Town, then at the Criterion Theatre in London by Terence Frisby, where it won the London City Limits Best Play of the Year Award, then taken to New York's Lucille Lortel Theatre, on Broadway and from there, to other parts of the world.

1986: The original Earth Players / The Company production plays in Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide. A new production by the Market Theatre Company, directed by Barney Simon, and now starring Sello Maake ka Ncube and Louis Seboko, is presented in the Baxter Concert Hall.

1987: The Market Theatre production plays in Switzerland.

1989: Performed in French as Lève-toi Albert! at the Bouffes du Nord Theatre, Paris, directed by Peter Brook, assisted by Marie-Hélène Estienne, and advised by Barney Simon. Performed by Mamadou DIoume and Bakary Sangaré. Lighting by Jean Kalman, technical direction by Jean-Guy Lecat.

1991: Presented by Little Theatre Tours at the National Arts Festival Fringe, directed by Mark Fleishman, starring Chris Gxalaba and Xola Luse.

1996: Directed by Bo Petersen, with Zwelibanzi Majola and Zolani Cata, in the Studio at the Baxter Theatre.

2001: Staged at the 25-year anniversary of the Market Theatre, directed by Sello Maake ka Ncube, with Siyabonga Twala and Tony Kgoroge for the opening performance and thereafter with Mfana Jones Hlope and Errol Ndotho.

2002: Performed in England, inter alia at the Nottingham Playhouse (13th - Sat 16th March ) by Siyabonga Twala and Jones Mfana Hlope and at the Riverside Studios, London, 13-22 June , by Siyabonga Twala and Errol Ndotho. Directed by Sello Maake ka Ncube.

2010: Woza Andries?, an adaptation for two white actors set in the New South Africa, written by Robert Volker, and workshopped by TEATERteater's actors De Klerk Oelofse, Johan Botha and Kelly-Eve Koopman, with director Christiaan Olwagen. The play met with critical acclaim at the 2010 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

2012: Directed by Prince Lamla, with Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu and Hamilton Ntokozo Dlamini at the Market Theatre, followed by a month-long season at the Edinburgh Festival 2012.

2014: A production by the University of Kwazulu-Natal's Hexagon Theatre, directed by Peter Mitchell, with T.Q. Zondi and Mpilo Nzimande. Also done at Seabrooke's Theatre, DHS

2014: ألبرت ووزا (Woza Albert! ), an Egyptian version, translated by Nassim Ibrahim, was directed by Mazen ELGharabawy, with decor and design by Hamdy Attia, and performed by the Academy of Arts, Higher Institute Performing Arts, Egypt under supervision of Prof Dr Hassan Nabila in November 2014. (A filmed version of the production is available on Youtube[3])

2015: Performed at the Little Theatre, Cape Town, as part of the Barney Simon tribute by the University of Cape Town. Directed by Mdu Kweyama with Sizwesandile Mnisi and Oarabile Ditsele.

2015: Performed as a British adaptation of the central idea - aimed at England’s post-Syrian asylum system - by the UCLU Drama Society at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, London, in 2015. The title Woza Albert! has been retained however.

2016: Produced by the Joburg Theatre, by arrangement with DALRO (Pty) Limited, in The Fringe at Joburg Theatre, with Mncedisi Shabangu and Hamilton Dhlamini.

2016: Performed at the Baxter Theatre’s Golden Arrow Studio, Cape Town, from 29 March to 9 April. Directed by Mdu Kweyama with Sizwesandile Mnisi and Oarabile Ditsele. Costume design Lee Bishop and lighting design is by Luyanda Somkhence.


Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)


Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Pat Schwartz. 1988. The Best of Company. Johannesburg: Ad Donker Publishers: pp. 100-102.

National Arts Festival programme, 1991. 184.

Nan Robertson. 1986. "Woza Afrika! spotlights Black South Africans". New York Times (Theater): July 24, 1986

Mary Benson. 1997. Athol Fugard and Barney Simon. Bare Stage, a Few Props, Great Theatre. Johannesburg: Ravan Press: pp. 118-121.

Percy Tucker, 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Wits University Press: pp. 402, 442.

Suzanne Nash 2002. "Woza Albert! - review", BBC, 14th March 2002[4]

Lyn Gardner. 2002. "Woza Albert!", The Guardian, Thursday 13 June 2002[5]

Philip Fisher. 2002. "Woza Albert" (sic), British Theatre Guide


Anton Krueger. 2014. ‘It’s just Changed Color’: Clowning with Parodies of Religion, Race and Nation in Woza Albert! and Woza Andries?, in Nadine Holdsworth, Theatre and National Identity: Re-Imagining Conceptions of Nation. Routledge: pp19-40[6]

"Woza Albert! at Seabrooke's in Durban", Artslink.co.za News, 04/04/2014[7]

"Joburg Theatre presents Woza Albert!", Artslink.co.za News, 01/07/2016 [8]

"Woza Albert at the Baxter this April" - 29/03/2016 - Artslink.co.za News

"Étiquette : Woza Albert!". Posted in CICT, Note, Théâtre - 31 mars 1989[9]

UCLU (University College London Union) Drama website[10]


http://mazen-elgharabwe.blogspot.co.za/2014_02_01_archive.html )

Website on the 2018 Woza Albert! Bloomsbury Student Edition[11]

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