Love London Love Culture rounds up the critics thoughts on John Kani’s play.
London Theatre.co.uk: ★★★★★ “It’s a play rich in humanity and experience, and it is rewarded by performances that match it note for alternately anguished and uplifting note. There may be occasional lapses into sentimentality in the writing, but Kani and Sher are both too astute as actors to over-indulge it.”
Ham & High: “South Africans John Kani and Antony Sher are superb in a two hander that excavates the wounds of Apartheid and the pain of growing old.”
The Upcoming: ★★★★ “Kunene and the King offers valuable insight into a complex society and portrays a powerful and moving connection between two people who are acutely aware of their history and mortality.”
Londonist: ★★★ “Although the play touches on notorious events from South Africa’s past and suggests ongoing racial divisions in society, there is not enough tension in the two men’s interactions to give weight to the politics.”
The Telegraph: ★★★ “Over the past few years, it has had its share of flops (Foxfinder, Switzerland), shrewdly short runs (Adrian Mole the Musical) and respectable visitations (Pressure). Kunene and the King fits into the latter category.”
British Theatre.com: ★★★ “As a piece of theatre, it plays safe, everything is done well but there’s nothing remarkable about it, beyond the casting of two superlative veterans in the speaking roles.”
London Theatre1: ★★★★★ “Despite, or maybe because of, its weighty themes – cancer, death, oppression, racial hatred to name but a few – Kunene and the King is made remarkably light on its feet by the plain human engagement of these two combatants who, by the end, appear as much apposite as opposite.”
Evening Standard: ★★ “The performances in Janice Honeyman’s production for the RSC and the Fugard Theatre meander terribly. Kani’s character at least has some charm. Sher seems almost to believe this really is his last role, so milks every gurgling second from his baggy, unreconstructed panto villain. It’s a short play that could be shorter if everyone got a bloody move on.”
London Unattached: “Kunene and the King is a masterclass of superb acting, two men from a divided South African past whose relationship cannot escape the trauma that continues to create upheaval in contemporary South Africa. Kani and Sher straddle the personal and the political with great skill, Kani combining compassion and rage while Sher portrays racist arrogance coupled with dependence and frailty.”
London Box Office: ★★ “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.”
Time Out: ★★★ “Kani’s writing tends towards the expositional, especially on the subject of politics, and the dialogue can lurch from theme to theme. But Janice Honeyman’s production has two really affectionate performances, laced with the melancholy of ageing and the fear of mortality.”
Broadway World: ★★★ “As a whole, Kunene and the King is an ambiguous play. Kani brings to the stage the staggering evidence of South Africa’s scars with precision and aim, but it feels like Honeyman loses her grip on the dramatic tension of the script by letting its self-indulgent side overpower the sharp and crystal clear political critique.”
The Metro: ★★★ “It’s easy to pick holes in this earnest RSC two-hander. Written by Black Panther actor John Kani and co-starring Antony Sher, it is set last year in the pair’s homeland South Africa and takes a sometimes heavy-handed look at the country’s lingering racial tensions.”
The Times: “Two excellent veteran leads make Kunene and the King a dignified South African treat.”
Kunene and the King continues to play at the Ambassadors Theatre until 28 March 2020.