By Meg Hill
“Madiba the Musical” is bringing its first English speaking tour to Australia, opening in Melbourne in October.
The show started in France in 2016 and was hugely popular. It was scheduled for a run of a few weeks, but ended up running for four months. It could have gone longer, as tickets continued to sell out, but the theatre had to move on to other booked productions.
The Australian tour features South African performer Perci Moeketsi as Nelson Mandela (Madiba). Joining him are Tim Omaji, Tarisai Vushe, Blake Erickson, Madeline Perrone, Barry Conrad, Ruva Ngwnya, David Denis, Courtney Bell and Riley Sutton.
CBD News watched the cast in rehearsals at the Ministry of Dance in North Melbourne. The show is split into three parts – Mandela as a lawyer, Mandela in jail, and Mandela out of jail – and is interwoven with the stories of fictional characters who represent the everyday lives of black South Africans under apartheid.
The show is guided by narrator David Dennis who plays with the theme of time. As Mandela goes through his 27 years in jail, the show switches between events both in and out of prison.
“Mandela has been in jail for 18 years, but now let’s spend some time in 1982,” Dennis said, rehearsing a scene from Part Two, as the show moved from inside to outside jail.
For Melbourne audiences, it’s worth spending some time reading up on apartheid and, specifically, the anti-apartheid movements in Melbourne itself.
From the 1960s to the end of apartheid in the 1990s, Australian trade unions and workers put up boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa and connected with African trade unions.
Spend some time in 1963, for example, when the group South Africa Protest was formed in Melbourne.
Spend some time in 1971 when the South African rugby team toured Australia, and transport and hotel workers acted to make that tour as logistically difficult as possible.
Five thousand protestors marched in Melbourne against the tour.
Or spend some time in 1990, when Nelson Mandela visited Australia just months after his release from prison. The ACTU hosted a welcome for him at Melbourne Town Hall.
Madiba has a focus on the mass nature of the anti-apartheid movement that encourages the incorporation of stories like those. Avoiding clichés is important in a story about Nelson Mandela and, in doing so, the creators found a way to tell the stories of those who were just as important as Mandela.
Writer Jean Pierre-Hadida told CBD News that the musical tells small stories within the big story.
“The big story is the story you learn in school, the fairy-tale of Mandela,” he said.
“The small stories are the everyday life, the real people, the one where the actors of apartheid have their own lives, their own love stories, their own fights.”
“To mix the big story and the everyday gives a complete look of what we wanted to transmit.”
African-Australian performer Tim Omaji emphasised this too. He said Madiba tells the story that people haven’t really heard about. He also explained why he jumped to audition as soon as he heard about it, despite often working in musicals.
“Being African in this country we don’t get many musicals that are African-based, period,” he said.
“The story of Mandela is seen as the story of one man, especially outside of Africa, this kind of saint-like figure, but what’s happening around him?”
“This musical really talks about that. My role is fictional but it represents the feeling and the emotion of what was happening outside of the jail.”
The star of the show, South African Perci Moeketsi, said it would be selfish to think that the story of Mandela is actually about Mandela.
“It’s our story,” he said.
Madiba the Musical is running October 3 – October 21 at the Comedy Theatre.
Book at www.ticketmaster.com.au or