Mandela Trilogy - review
Southbank Centre
Part of the Africa Utopia Festival

Published: Sunday, September 4, 2016 2:34 PM | Review by: Uchenna Izundu |
The cast of Mandela Trilogy  at the Royal Festival as part of Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia. Credit Victor Frankowski. The cast of Mandela Trilogy at the Royal Festival as part of Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia. Credit Victor Frankowski.

Performed by the Cape Town Opera by a cast and orchestra of over 60 South African performers, the Mandela Trilogy follows the icon's early years with his tribal initiation along the Mbashe River to his rallying cries in jazzy Sophiatown, and the torturous imprisonment on Robben Island.

With the #blacklivesmatter movement still reigning strong in 2016, it is a constant reminder that racial injustice is a sore that needs to be lanced - despite Nelson Mandela's legacy in South Africa. A history scarred by the apartheid era, one can't help but wonder: why is the West so quick to criticise others when it has failed to remove the log in its own eye?


The Mandela Trilogy (see listing) is an original operatic consideration of Mandela's life as a freedom fighter - pained by how apartheid savaged his people. A jewel in the Africa Utopia Festival (see listing) which celebrates the continent's role on the global cultural stage, there are numerous talks, performances, and workshops at the Southbank this weekend.


Performed by the Cape Town Opera by a cast and orchestra of over 60 South African performers, the Mandela Trilogy follows the icon's early years with his tribal initiation along the Mbashe River to his rallying cries in jazzy Sophiatown, and the torturous imprisonment on Robben Island.


What is clear from the second part of this multi media production with scenic shots of his roots, is that Mandela had time for the ladies. Bearing in mind his saint like status, it is disconcerting to reconcile this with a philanderer. Married to Evelyn, his first wife with whom he had four children, Mandela embarked upon an affair with Dolly, a club singer. And he left both of them for second wife Winnie.


The cast of Mandela Trilogy  at the Royal Festival as part of Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia. Credit Victor Frankowski. Peace R. Nzirawa as Mandela 2 and cast in Mandela Trilogy at the Royal Festival as part of Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia. Credit Victor Frankowski

Echoing today's polygamous South African president Jacob Zuma, one disturbing scene is seeing all three women sharing the stage pining for him in song. These competitors and enablers all represent different facets of his personality and beliefs in a patriarchal system.


Peace Nzirawa's bass speaking voice as the young cheerleader Mandela in Sophiatown is a stark contrast to the high soulful tunes he belts out. In the second act, the musical score picks up in rhythm and pace as the ensemble whizz and whir on the dance floor.


But Mandela's journey feels somewhat sanitised in this production. Moments that one expects to be wrought with emotion such as him learning of his son's death in prison are reduced to a footnote. We're not told what he died from or what their relationship was like.


It's a tough call examining the person of Nelson Mandela and his relationships. The former president's passions and politics are mainstream fodder. The insight into the man? That seemed just too pat.



Info: Africa Utopia is at Southbank Centre until 4 September 2016 | Find out more | See listing | Read the Afridiziak Theatre News e-news about Africa Utopia | Mandela Trilogy was part of the Africa Utopia Festival and is on tour until 24 September 2016 | See listing | Read review




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