Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble have returned to the Young Vic, where their Magic Flute was an Olivier Award-winning success in 2007, with another inspired operatic retelling. This time, rather than Mozart, they’ve chosen a timely true life refugee story.
When civil war ravaged Somalia in 1991, an eight year-old boy called Asad set out on an epic journey after his mother was shot in front of him. Travelling through five countries via various extended family members he eventually reached South Africa, where writer Jonny Steinberg met him and wrote down his story. It’s a harrowing one, of course, but there is little time for sentimentality as Asad must learn to survive the hard knocks.
From a gorgeous Marimba overture to a selection of moving arias, the production - which features music composed by Mandisi Dyantyis and the company - is beautiful to listen to. As with Magic Flute it fuses African choral and European classical to stunning effect, with dynamic choreography (by Lungelo Ngamlana) that makes full use of the expansive playing space.
The story of Asad, who is played by various members of the 24-strong company as he advances to manhood, is perhaps too linear in its arrangement. At times, particularly in the second act, the narrative gets bogged down as a result. But there are plenty of moments to savour, and welcome levity - particularly a neat recurring gag about Asad and his aunt dreaming of life in America, where 'there are no guns' and 'everyone is rich'.
Asad’s story is one of millions that are playing out around the world right now, and it’s hard not to reflect on this country’s refusal to shelter none but a handful. So beware all you bemoaning members of the metropolitan elite; A Man of Good Hope will rub salt in your wounds.
BY: THEO BOSANQUET