Theatre Review: MANDELA TRILOGY – The Lowry, Salford

Mandela Trilogy

The remarkable life of Nelson Mandela is vividly brought to life in Cape Town Opera’s production of MANDELA TRILOGY.

Performed by a cast of over 60 South African performers, the MANDELA TRILOGY is a musical tribute to the South African revolutionary and former President. Told in three parts, the 120 minute opera charts Mandela’s journey through three different phases of his life, from his from his home in the Transkei in the 1930s, to the demolition of Sophiatown in 1955 and his eventual freedom from prison in 1991. Three singers play Mandela at different stages of his life, exploring both the character of the man, as well as his political courage and the struggles in his life.

Vibrant, colourful and incredibly ambitious, the MANDELA TRILOGY is a compelling piece of contemporary opera. Writer and director Michael Williams’ ambitious piece conveys what could have been extremely tense and serious subject matter with vibrancy and flair. The production also doesn’t shy away from showing the man behind the myth, focusing on Mandela’s deteriorating relationship with his wife Winnie, as well as his battle with loneliness.

Cape Town Opera deliver an impressive performance, with the 60 strong cast displaying their diverse dance and vocal skills. Thato Machona and Aubrey Lodewyk both deliver strong performances as Mandela 1 and Mandela 3 but it is Peace R. Nzirawa who has by far the best voice of the male leads with his warm, deep voice shining through in his musical numbers as Mandela 2.

The women are equally strong with Candida Mosoma as Dolly (one of Mandela’s mistresses) in particular, stealing the show with her incredibly moving performance of ‘Meadowlands’. The touching HEARTS AND MINDS sung by Evelyn (Pumza Mxinwa), Dolly (Candida Mosoma) and Winnie (Siphamandla Yakupa) also stands out as one of the highlights of the show.

As expected from opera which covers such a turbulent period in history, the score combines an eclectic array of musical styles. Written by two different composers (Peter Louis van Dijk and Mike Campbell), each act is in stark contrast to the others. Act one is full of South African folk influences while act two is almost like a jazz musical with his upbeat and swing-influenced songs. The third part of the trilogy finds expression through the form of western opera. Yet while Williams’ decision to use different composers for each of the acts is understandable, the extreme juxtapositions of the different musical styles is a little disorientating and on occasion, it is difficult to hear the singers over the music.

The production itself also feels disjointed at times and the question remains as to whether the production really delivers the depth and decorum that Mandela’s story truly deserves.

That said, for the most part the MANDELA TRILOGY succeeds and a special mention must go to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alex Fokkens who sound terrific in the pit.

It has been 23 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison but as Cape Town Opera demonstrate, his remarkable story is still as moving and inspiring as ever.

3 out of 5 stars

The MANDELA TRILOGY runs at The Lowry until 24 September.