Wednesday evening was one of firsts for me: I heard an audience groan when the interval lights came on instead of scurrying to the bar or loo; I sat through a circus without a clown in sight (thank you); and I went to the Peacock Theatre in Holborn, baby sister to Sadler’s Wells to see Mother Africa.
Yes, the first half of Mother Africa went far too quickly and not without some serious doses of adrenalin. The production is set in Khayelitsha, the largest township in Africa, but it’s a pan-African show (the only language I recognised being Portuguese). Khayelitsha is poor and overcrowded, but it’s also full of joy and hope. The circus in question is not your traditional big-top show: it’s an eye-popping evening of acrobatic agility, colourful costumes, dance and African music.
My favourite act included a hula hoop. Well, the girl on stage started with one, but I lost count of how many were eventually looped around her head, shoulders, waist, feet and arms whilst dancing and smiling (and I don’t mean one of those stiff Strictly Come Dancing smiles: this girl was having a hoot). She later performed another astonishing act with hats. A lot of hats.
Who knew bricks from a construction site and a Wellington boot (or a gumboot in Africa) could make music? They do in Mother Africa. The gumboot dance was an African dance performed by miners who were forbidden from communicating with each other. To circumvent this, the miners would add bells to their boots and create sound communication patterns. The practice eventually morphed into a dance, and in the show, we’re treated to some finely tuned choreography where the boots become the heartbeat of the act.
Mother Africa is directed by Winston Riddle who established a Circus College in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2005. The college is free, and the most talented students are offered an opportunity to tour with the circus. Mother Africa has now been seen by over one million spectators and made its UK debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2015. It arrives fresh from its second Broadway run at the New Victory Theatre, New York, having been nominated for ‘Best Show’ in the Drama Desk Awards when it debuted there in 2013, and will be taking up its third residency at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in the USA at the end of its visit to The Peacock.
Take the kids, take your granny. Mother Africa is a feast for the eyes and the soul. It will leave you happy and with a dance in your step.
Playing at The Peacock Theatre until the 11th March 2017
Tickets from £15-£38 (under 16s half price)
Run time: 2 hours (including a 20-minute interval)