“THIS is theatre”, I thought to myself, as I joined in the standing ovation following what I believe to have been one of the most uplifting evenings of theatre I have had in a long while.
Bravo to Brisbane Festival, for programming SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill, a bold and well-structured contemporary music theatre masterpiece by Nuffield Southampton Theatre and Isango Ensemble (ZAF).
What unfolds before you in Dancing the Death Drill is a true and tragic tale of imperialism and racism, to make you laugh, cry and question, “Why is this story not more well-known?”
A simply lit, raked stage with wooden floorboards and corrugated iron walls seamlessly transformed into the docks of Cape Town, a bus, the ship’s deck and a courtroom, through the exceptionally clever use of props such as cloth, ropes, crates, sticks, a bamboo pole and paper umbrellas.
I love this kind of theatre, driven by ingenious direction, creative ideas and imagination, more than budget. Brilliantly, the music consisted only of percussion and the human voice.
One moment you’re listening to an uproariously full and joyful chorus of African harmonies and rhythms complete with chants, whistles and yips.
The next, you’re practically transported to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta!
In their talents, technique and versatility in both music-making and movement, the Isango Ensemble showed immense commitment on stage.
It’s obvious to all that this is a unique and expertly trained group of and passionate storytellers.
It was also a sheer joy to hear the use of African languages such as Xhosa (known for its distinct click sound) together with English. More productions should use multilingualism as bravely as this.
Overall, SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill a memorable night at the theatre suited for well-seasoned theatre lovers and ideal for newbies. 5 stars!