I didn’t know what to expect from the Mandela Trilogy (apart from an inkling as to what the plot might be about…), but I was blown away by this Wales Millennium Centre and Cape Town Opera production, written and directed by Michael Williams. When a performance has the power to stir you up politically, you know it’s something special. I left The Mayflower Theatre feeling inspired that one person really can change the world.
Split into three distinctive acts (hence the ‘trilogy’ title), the vastly different musical and visual styles takes the audience on a journey. Composer Péter Louis van Dijk’s first act takes us to Mandela’s roots in the Thembu tribe, after he has undertaken his initiation rites. The fusion of opera and tribal sounds not only brings the Thembu culture to life, it also positions opera as something accessible.
The second act is composed by Mike Campbell, and takes a different approach, with a more musical theatre style. Set in the Sophiatown Jig Club, upbeat swing numbers let the story about Mandela’s love life develop and political rumblings break out. Act three is again composed by Péter Louis van Dijk, and takes a darker turn. The heaviness of the music and story has all the more impact when contrasted with the previous act. The use of video throughout is stirring, and adds an extra dynamic to the simple set.
Although the operatic performances are stronger than the musical theatre style numbers, the entire cast is outstanding. Aubrey Lodewyk is particularly strong in the title role, guiding us through the story, with a warm baritone voice that draws in the audience. Philisa Sibek is also captivating as Winnie.
Cramming the life of Nelson Mandela into three acts is no easy feat, but the narrative that has been selected is shown in great detail. This is a production I could easily watch for another hour, and really I want to see what happens next. Perhaps this is something rarely said of operas, but the Mandela Trilogy could do with another act.
The story, passion and performance of the Mandela Trilogy grabbed me, and you could tell by the thunderous applause that it did the rest of the audience too.
Words by Katie Dancey