While the manner in which the events of Nelson Mandela’s life unfolded isn’t exactly pantomime, TNT recently strolled into The Lowry for The Mandela Trilogy.
As the curtain was raised, a prison scene with imbued with melancholic memories of Mandela alone in his cell with a subdued spotlight. The sudden introduction of opera takes the audience by surprise as leading actor Aubrey Lodewyk breaks into song.
The entire production’s vast arrays of musical styles from political songs, jazz to jive, gave this musical an eclectic mix of South African music.
Broken down into three acts, The Mandela Trilogy is as the title suggests. Act 1: Nelson’s home, his initiation into manhood and rejection of the customary arranged marriage. Act 2: Mandela working as a lawyer in the township, and his active role with the ANC party and the women in his life. Act 3: The Rivonia trail, his imprisonment and his eventually his freedom. Between the scenes, the audience has a chance to have a ‘behind the scenes’ look, of Mandela the man behind the political screen, warts and all.
The set consisted of video footage and still imagery, which instantly transports the viewer back to the harsh realities that black South Africans endured. The intermittent soft-flicking stage lighting made people re-appear from the shadows. Although the choreography was flat-footed in the jive scenes, it was sharp with the rest of the musical’s stages – impeccable, in a nutshell.
Reflecting the different stages of Mandela’s life chronologically, there were three individuals playing the great African. Aubrey Lodewyk, who played Mandela in his later years, was captivating with his operatic voice, projection and clarity. So it was annoying to an extent that audience members had to read subtitles on a screen above; it took much focus away from the performances.
Mandela during his early years was played by Thato Machona, who unfortunately didn’t quite command the role. Peace R Nzirawa playing him in his youth and middle years grabbed the audience with his stage presence, as his powerful voice bellowed across the auditorium, I can only compare his voice to be more charismatic and commanding than James Earl Jones – the voice of Mufasa in Lion King.
Throwing natives into the mixture, the show cast performers from the Cape Town Opera; at one point over 23 cast members were on stage – a considered and positive overwhelming experience.
The varied musical styles melded together may have been fluid in parts however stalled the feel of the show in others.
Nonetheless, this uniquely pleasant show is must see theatre – great starter for Black History Month.