Based on the book by Jonny Steinberg and presented by South Africa’s Isango Ensemble, A Man of Good Hope tells the story of Asad Abdullahi, a Somalian refugee who as a child fled his country’s civil war and travelled across six African nations in search of refuge in South Africa, where, like many a refugee, he found his new home was no paradise.
The show begins with the cast casually chatting, their presence radiating charm, sincerity and optimism. Then they burst into non-stop action, with simple yet captivating story-telling techniques: door frames establish homes, airports and borders; shopping bags and pieces of wood create cars and trucks.
Music and dance are essential components in this production, which incorporates traditional African songs, opera and modern folk-rock. When the cast members sing, their voices and harmonies are totally compelling.
The 22 multi-talented performers act, sing, dance and play instruments in their portrayal of this incredible, uplifting story of courage, with director Mark Dornford-May ensuring they are busy every second of the energetic production. When not on stage, they make vocal sound effects, enhancing and enriching the acting and story-telling.
A Man of Good Hope does not shy away from harsh realities in Africa, such as fiercely loyal clans being responsible for violence and civil war and black South Africans treating Somali refugees with disdain as they “take our jobs, take our women and look down on the locals”.
While the performers have a great sense of fun and comedy, they are able to change the tone in an instant to show graphic scenes of torture and suffering. The realities of living in a war-torn country are shown when Asad, as a young boy, sees his mother killed and has to tend to the needs of a wounded young woman.
The cast is exceptional – the young actor portraying the boy Asad, in particular, brings great energy, personality, maturity and conviction to his role, while other standouts are the performers who play the older Asad and his wife.
Through song, dance and acting, Isango Ensemble conveys a deep understanding of humanity, vividly demonstrating dignity in adversity and how many people around the world put themselves at risk in an attempt to seek a better and safer life for themselves and their families.
A Man of Good Hope is being presented at the Royalty Theatre until March 11. See more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.