31 January 2023
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
I had originally booked for this show for late December, but several cancellations due to cast illness meant I had to postpone my visit to late January.
This is an interesting musical. As the name suggests, it focuses on Nelson Mandela, and his fight to end Apartheid in South Africa. However, the story starts with Sharpeville massacre of 1960, when a peaceful protest for more rights for Black South Africans was brought to a brutal end by machine gun fire from police, leading to dozens of deaths among protesters. Deciding that violence can only be fought by violence, Mandela is arrested along with other leaders of the freedom fighters, and sentenced to life. There is no exploration and little mention of his history before these events, and he spends the largest part of the musical imprisoned on Robben Island.
While the continuing fight, and the plight of his immediate family, is explored with emotional songs and rousing speeches, we see and hear little of Mandela and how he occupied his time during his imprisonment.
Still, it is an emotional, intense exploration of family dynamics and how much people were willing to give up to fight for a better life for future generations, and the strain that Apartheid put on Black South Africans for decades. Peaceful discussions rarely change history, and state violence being answered by protester violence is a common repercussion when a majority of a population are not given the same rights and representations as a self-proclaimed elite.
Despite its flaw of delving more into emotion than politics, and the somewhat sentimental songs that feel a bit out of place here and there, it’s a powerful exploration of a population fighting for equal rights, and winning in the end. Of how difficult and long this fight was, how much was lost and what was gained.
I for one very much enjoyed this new musical and would love to see more history and politics focused musicals that don’t revolve around powerful white men!