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8 September, 2019

An ambitious show which delivered on every promise

At first sight, St Matthew Passion embodies a trilogy of unlikely companions.

A test of approximations, there is the 2000-year-old story of the crucifixion of Christ, an over 200-year-old composition by Bach, laced together by traditional South African folk music.

St Matthew Passion proves what divides in time is connected by tradition and is well told by glorious South African voices.

The show is more than an adaptation of Bach’s original work; it is a reimagining of Christ’s betrayal, trial and execution adopting a South African lens.

Showing the story of a man fighting injustice in an occupied state resonates with South Africans.

The cast, from disadvantaged townships, is as dramatic as they are devoted to a convincing performance.

The show is a unique experience with minimalist stage presentation but a traditionalist ‘big show’ performance.

Visually, the iconic last supper scene was a highlight.

Although, given the prestige of the Concert Hall, witnessing the crucifixion of Christ on an aluminium double sidestep ladder was a visual stretch, and served only to distract from the very moving portrayal of Mary Magdalene.

The 70-minute experience blends Xhosa and Afrikaans with just enough English to catch any lagging audience, myself included.

Where the story left me behind, I still had the Passion, Bach’s music in arrangements for marimba.

Overall, this was quality performance; it was only toward the end did I silently will Christ’s death so I could escape to the bar!