As such, it is a period piece that transcends its era by offering a perspective on the more universal topic of human nature, its aspirations and its frailty, and it does so with a humour that steers it firmly away from facile sentimentality.
Apart from the collective excellence of its cast, both actors and musicians, this production is stellar by virtue of its staging. Given the show’s spatial mobility, which requires constant shifts of scene without forfeiting verisimilitude, set designer Paul Wills has opted for vertical as opposed to the more traditional horizontal presentation, and the three levels of the set, with the band playing on the fourth, economises brilliantly on the limitations of available stage size.
The boxing ring is evoked by the simple means of four ropes and two stools; the shebeen emerges at intervals as if by magic from the panels of the backdrop; and the prison is conjured up by a set of palisades.
All this is further enhanced by Tim Mitchell’s lighting and Mark Malherbe’s sound design to transport the audience to township society in the late-1950s, with the distinctive dress-style of the time convincingly caught in Birrie le Roux’s wide array of costumes.
Amid all the colour and energy of that society, the athletic dancing to catchy music from jazz ensembles and penny-whistle players, Dlamini/Kong thrives through his pugilistic talent until he falls in love with the wrong girl, oblivious to the adoration of the lass who truly loves him
A quartet of footballing schoolboys and their old friend Pop provide a context for Kong’s adventures, and Dladla as Pop almost upstages Gumbi with his dynamic personality.
Gumbi himself is ideally cast: he combines the powerful physique of a boxer with the gentle face of a man naïve enough to be led astray. Most compelling of all the portrayals is that of Tembe as Joyce, the shebeen-queen. Sensual, glamorous and seductive, she also has a voice to match that of Miriam Makeba, who was the original Joyce back in 1959.
This is a worthy successor to the 1959 production of King Kong - and the work carries its age effortlessly.