Isango Ensemble’s stage adaptation of Jonny Steinberg’s novel A Man of Good Hope is a goose-bump inducing production that portrays brilliantly the true story of Somalian refugee, Asad Abdullahi. A supremely talented company, Isango’s performance both uplifts and wrenches your heart.
Blending together opera with traditional African song and dance, Isango are completely self-reliant – the sound they create electrifies the room, no orchestral assistance needed. Taking turns to play the marimbas and the drums, using their hands and feet, the energy their music and movement brings is electrifying. The production is staged and lit simply, but it doesn’t need much else – the music is central to the production and is what gives it edge. With each harmony I felt shivers down my spine. Special mention should therefore go to Mandisi Dyantyis and Pauline Malefane, Isango’s musical directors, and to choreographer Lungelo Ngamlana for working such wonders.
What is perhaps the greatest aspect of Isango, is their authenticity. Based in Cape Town, the company’s performers come from across the townships surrounding the city; even Phielo Makitle, the wonderful young actor playing Asad as a boy, comes straight from a ‘no fee’ primary schools in South Africa, having never acted before. In bringing the South African culture to London, they bring with them a fresh ideas and innovations that transport you from a London theatre into the middle of war-torn Somalia and the socially conflicted Johannesburg. In performing Asad’s story, Isango addresses the Somalian civil war and the dangers of culture clashes in South Africa – important events that rarely find their way onto a UK stage. Using physical theatre they present the dangers faced by Asad in a heartrending and truthful manner, provoking a conversation about refugees that remains highly relevant today.
As Asad’s life progresses and he grows older, several different actors portray him – Phielo Makitle, Luvo Tamba and Ayanda Tikolo. It can be difficult to unify a portrayal of one person with multiple actors, but they achieve this feat brilliantly. Their characterizations are evidently well thought out; with each change and experience in Asad’s life, you can really see Makitle, Tamba and Tikolo’s emotional responses – these actors have internalised Asad’s story and breathe it to life via their performance. While Asad changes over the course of his life, the strength of their performances keeps it clear that this is one person’s story.
A stunning and above all, important, performance, Isango Ensemble gift us with their immeasurable talent and the story that they tell.
A Man of Good Hope is playing Young Vic Theatre until 12 November. For more information and tickets, see The Young Vic theatre website.
Photo: Keith Pattison