By Michael Billington
Based on the book by Jonny Steinberg, Isango Ensemble’s powerful music-theatre production tells the true story of an eight-year-old refugee’s journey
Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble, who first astonished us in 2001 with their version of The Mysteries, are back with an equally powerful piece of music-theatre about a young Somali refugee’s capacity for survival. Halfway between a Brechtian fable and a pop opera, it says a lot about human endurance and demonstrates the company’s exhilarating virtuosity.
The show is based on a book by Jonny Steinberg that recounts the true story of eight-year-old Asad, who sees his mother murdered in Somalia’s civil war before setting out on a journey that will take him through the Horn of Africa. In the course of his long trek, he sees relatives disappear, lives in refugee camps, grows up to acquire an Ethiopian wife and child and eventually arrives in South Africa. One of the show’s bitterest ironies is that, instead of a promised land, he discovers a struggling, post-apartheid society where Somalis are seen as unwanted intruders to be robbed and attacked.
In lesser hands, the story might be milked for its sentiment. But in Mark Dornford-May’s production and under the inspired musical direction of Mandisi Dyantyis and Pauline Malefane, one is struck by the show’s vigour. The 22-strong company play a variety of instruments including marimbas and djembe drums, break out into dance and move easily between solo songs and acappella choruses. Of the four actors who play Asad, Ayanda Tikolo as the mature man and Phielo Makitle as the bright-eyed boy are outstanding, and I can only urge everyone to see a show in which the personal and the political seamlessly combine.
Source: The Guardian