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Author Pat Williams, who divides her time between Arran and London, has just published a personal memoir of South Africa’s legendary musical, King Kong – Our Knot of Time and Music.
In 1959 the musical, described by its young creators as a ‘jazz opera’, opened in Johannesburg and went on to be the biggest theatrical sensation in South African history. Nelson Mandela was in the audience for that first night of King Kong, a show which launched the international careers of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela among many others.
King Kong was based on the life and times of heavyweight boxing champion Ezekiel Dhlamini (known as King Kong) and reflected the realities of township life. Starring an all-black cast, it grew out of an unprecedented collaboration between black people and whites, and became an instant hit, bursting through the barriers of apartheid and eventually playing to 200,000 South Africans of every colour before transferring to London’s West End.
Pat Williams, who wrote the show’s lyrics and original working script, was at the time an apolitical young woman trying to free herself from the controls and prejudices of the genteel white society in which she lived. Here she recounts her experience of growing up in a divided South Africa, her involvement in the musical, and its lasting impact both on herself and on the show’s cast.
Her memoir, published to coincide with the stage revival of King Kong, takes the story up to the present day. It is a vivid evocation of a troubled time and place, as well as a celebration of a joyous musical which remained a pinprick of light during South Africa’s dark times— and still lives on today.
Pat, who began her working life at 16, is an award-winning writer, journalist, scriptwriter and broadcaster, and in recent years a psychotherapist.
‘Honest, unflinching, beautifully written with immaculate taste, the genesis of King Kong is fascinating. But there’s more: a portrait of a bygone age that feels painfully fresh, and a constantly touching, universal tale of emotional wounding and recovery … a triumph’ – William Nicholson OBE.
‘An extraordinary memoir of the first ever South African musical, which has since acquired mythical proportions. Essential reading’ – Athol Fugard.
The book, which is out now, is available from Portobello Books in paperback, £9.99.