OK so I've seen The Three Penny Opera this year and now musical/opera A Man of Good Hope. What's going on? Don't worry you won't be reading my reviews of Wicked or The Lion King any time soon. I was drawn to A Man of Good Hope partly because of the story and partly because of Isango Ensemble. Isango has adapted Jonny Steinberg's book about a refuge's journey across Africa.
Four actors play Somali Asad through his life - two men, a woman and child actor Phielo Makitle (who shares the role with Siphosethu Juta). The play starts with an adult Asad talking to writer Jonny Steinberg while keeping one eye nervously on the look out for gangs we then go back to his childhood home in Somalia and the events that led to his 8-year old self becoming a refugee.
It is a story of violence, rejection and loneliness but it is also a story of ingenuity, resourcefulness, hard work - and hope. Using a mixture of African choral music and classical European opera it doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of life as a refuge or politics but it nonetheless remains an uplifting story. The danger with this sort of subject matter is to be didactic, to try to manipulate the audience but A Man Of Good Hope is subtly thought-provoking as well as entertaining*.
It is simply staged with just a few props and occasionally small pieces of set which allow the richness of the music, song and movement to take centre stage.
Despite it's grim subject matter A Man Of Good Hope is uplifting and joyful to watch primarily because it highlights the power of positive human spirit to endure the harshest of times. It is a play that above all else is about hope. I'm giving it 5 stars and you can see it at the Young Vic until Nov 12. It is two and a half hours including an interval.
*Lessons could be learned here, recently there have been new plays tackling similar issues that have failed to strike the same balance but that, perhaps, is a whole separate post.