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Monty Leigh

Review: KUNENE AND THE KING at The Ambassadors Theatre

Kunene and the King Set in South Africa, 2019, 25 years since the first post-apartheid elections, this comedy/drama revolves around the relationship between two men from very different walks of life attempting to happily co-exist in a carer/patient dynamic, despite their opposing viewpoints.

The two characters are Jack Morris (Anthony Sher) a grumbling old actor who has stage 4 terminal liver cancer, and his assigned carer Lunga Kunene. Morris, despite being in the last stages of his illness, is determined to play King Lear later in the year so implores Kunene to ‘make him better,’ despite his underlying prejudice and his overtly racist comments.

Morris constantly uses terms like ‘you people,’ and continuously criticises Kunene's language in an attempt to "educate him".

The duo reveal much about South African history, and what it means for them both today. Whilst Morris feels the country has fallen into ‘violence and depravity,’ Kunene is frustrated by the promise of a better future which never came, one without white oppression.

Despite all these good ingredients the play fails to grip, and feels repetitive. Whilst I can see what Kani’s intentions with the script were, I found the focus on Morris’s story to be counterproductive. We are accustomed to seeing old racists on our stages and films, and also in our daily lives - I would rather not have to listen to one for an hour even if he does improbably change his views by the end.

I know that I learned something about post-apartheid South Africa, which is good, but I wanted to hear more from Kunene and less from the bumbling, unreasonable old man throwing his dirty underwear in his carers face (yes, that actually happened).

There is something uncomfortable about sitting amongst people applauding and laughing along with a white supremacist, even if he does have a late change of heart. It is not something that I can see a younger crowd doing, I think the storytelling was focused in the wrong place.

Alongside this, there is a lack of action, it feels like characters aren't listening to one another, and if you didn't know King Lear you would be lost for half of the play as it constantly draws parallels between Morris and Lear.

Kani’s writing does have its moments but you'll need a very open mind to tolerate the rest of it.