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Review: Mamela, Live Theatre Newcastle, until Saturday

Part of the UK-wide Afrovibes Festival, Mamela is uplifting, visceral and authentic all at the same time, says Herbert Soden

Scenes from Mamela
Scenes from Mamela

MAMELA (Listen) blends the life stories of seven women from the Eastern Cape of South Africa with traditional song and dance.

The play was born in the North East when director Amy Golding and Live Theatre’s Gez Casey were involved with The Swallows Partnership – a project connecting North East and Eastern Cape artists.

It was was developed in Eastern Cape in 2011 during a series of workshops for women aged 16-30. Out of the hundreds involved in these sessions, a group of nine were selected.

The cast came together for the first time during a week-long residency in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The women are part of the “born free” generation – those that were born towards the end of the Apartheid era.

Mamela tackles religion, politics and family life while presenting the women’s experiences, aspirations and opinions.

Scenes from Mamela
Scenes from Mamela

This is verbatim theatre – a form of theatre where the stories of the participants are recorded and reproduced on stage.

The stories mixed the harsh realities of township life with more universal themes such as pressures at school and at home.

There are harrowing moments, one woman can’t contain her tears as she describes the savage beating that caused her miscarriage, and the stabbing that killed her brother – both happened on the same day.

A debate about religion is handled with such a lightness of touch that it was entertaining without losing any of its meaning.

The music and dance blend seamlessly with the dialogue, one of my favourite moments saw a performer discuss her favourite dances whilst the cast demonstrate it.

The singing that punctuates the production offers the perfect accompaniment to the spoken word.

Part of the UK-wide Afrovibes Festival, Mamela is uplifting, visceral and authentic all at the same time. It is a real must-see.

Herbet Soden


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