Mandela – Review

Mandela: Young Vic Theatre, London

13th January 2023


Mandela is a new musical about the life of Nelson Mandela. The production has been written and produced in proud partnership with Nandi MandelaLuvuyo Madasa and the Mandela family. Mandela is one of the most iconic activist of the 20th Century having fought for equality and freedom from Apartheid for 29 years, 27 of those being spent imprisoned for his beliefs.

This new production is historically accurate and shows the plight of black South Africans during the Apartheid. The struggle is shown on the cast’s faces from the opening scene and the use of modern, contemporary dance throughout the show further highlights this. Whilst the first act sets the scene and can be slow at times, the production comes into its own during the second act. Danielle Fiamanya is an excellent Winnie and shows the sheer desperation of being trodden down by the Apartheid whilst still looking after her family single-handedly and trying to fight her husbands plight. Her vocals are exceptional and the emotion shown throughout, particularly during the moving song ‘My Last Breath‘ is striking. Michael Luwoye is strong as Nelson Mandela himself. He has a commanding presence on the stage and portrays the leader well. Vocally, Luwoye is very powerful, although at times the lyrics can be hard to understand. All of the cast are vocally very impressive and are what drives this production forward. Stewart Clarke especially impresses during ‘Taken‘ and Nomfusi Ngonyama and Leanne Robinson’s performance as Mandela’s two young daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, forced to grow up without their father is excellent.

Choreography by Gregory Maqoma is well used. The use of contemporary dance mixed with traditional African styles works brilliantly and once again shows the emotion of the piece. Lighting by Jon Clark works effectively and is subtle enough not to distract from the emotion onstage. The simple set by Hannah Beachler is used well and benefits from Clark’s lighting.

The score, by Greg Dean Borowsky and Shaun Borowsky has some notable numbers such as ‘Fire with Fire‘, ‘Free Mandela‘, and ‘Whatever Happens‘ but at times falls slightly flat. It is the cast who make this production and take it from being purely a biography of Mandela and turn it into a moving piece of theatre. Mandela is more than just about the man himself. It is about all of those who lived during this time, those who were affected by the Apartheid, those who fought, those who lost loved ones. Whilst the world often recognises Nelson Mandela only, this production shows that it was a team effort and highlights the determination of others, especially Winnie to help free the South Africans and live life in a democratic country. Unfortunately, the show has been severely affected by illness and injury leading to many shows being cancelled and this may have hampered the momentum for the piece however, with an historically accurate book and superb vocals Mandela is a show worth catching.

Mandela is playing at the Young Vic Theatre until the 4th February 2023. For information and tickets click here.

Photo Credit: Helen Murray

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