In November 2016, a group of first year students from across the College of Arts and Law went to see A Man of Good Hope at the Young Vic Theatre in London as part of the ‘Cultures of Contemporary Africa’ and ‘Introduction to African Culture’ modules. Here are a selection of their reviews:
‘I watched the entire performance of A Man of Good Hope in awe of the passion and energy in which the actors performed. It is always a difficult task for a theatre team to adapt such a poignant novel into a stage play whilst retaining the intensity it holds as a book. The actors were incredible and it was clear that each of them were invested in the story they were telling. The authentic Somalian music which played a large role in the story telling sent chills down my spine. The stage was imaginatively and effectively used to present the simplicity of belongings the protagonist owned and the limited resources he had. Having not read the novel before watching the show, I was not previously aware on what the story entailed. After learning about the South African xenophobic attacks of 2008 in my ‘Focus on Studying Societies’ Anthropology module, it was interesting to see it from the perspective of the foreign national. After writing an essay on ‘Why have South Africans become so xenophobic?’ with reference to these attacks, it was interesting to apply my knowledge of the topic to the protagonist’s story and also to that of the South African rioters.
What struck me most about the story itself is the importance of family and relationships to the characters. This is something that we can cast similarities with in our own lives in the UK, and is heart-warming to see that it doesn’t change around the world. Furthermore, to appreciate that the play was a work of non-fiction and the events involved are continuously effecting people, the story was even more eye opening and heart breaking. I’m excited now to read the novel and see it presented in another format which may change the way I look at the story.’
Sophie Sedgwick, BA Anthropology & African Studies
‘I thought that the subject of refugees and the consequences of civil war was tackled in a very moving way and is particularly relevant because of the situation in Syria today. Furthermore, it was interesting how to see how they tackled the problems of displaying the cultures and languages of many different African countries, particularly in the scene where the protagonist is acting as translator for various different people while in Addis Abba.
Additionally, the use of everyday objects was also done very cleverly. Using doors to symbolise new beginnings created both hope and sadness. It also added a sense of the passage of time, for example using a door as the office for papers to America in the Kenyan refugee camp.
The music and dance was also a nice touch as it felt very passionate and gave the impression that the actors really enjoyed the performance as much as the audience did. The addition of the xylophones and the actors switching between them was really great because I thought it livened up the stage before the play began and made it a play about the celebration of African cultures.
I think my favourite part of the performance was watching the protagonist change as he grew up. This was shown both physically and through the ambitions, starting from childhood naivety of only wanting to own a truck to him as an older man, only wanting to stay safe. The characterisation was done beautifully.’
Rosa Smart, BA Classical Literature & Civilisation
‘I found the production extremely inspiring; its mixture of music and drama was both poignant and extremely beautiful to hear. It was an enriching experience which helped me understand the subject I have picked to widen my horizons, and it did just that, widen my horizons. I now understand a lot more than I did before about the African culture and its history, it has also inspired me to learn more. Another thing I really appreciated, as a first year, was the ability to make friends. It brought people together in enjoyment of theatre and African culture, as well as the excitement of visiting London. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the play and its blend of comedy, emotion and production standard. I thought the way the set was used and how the scene changes were carried out was very interesting and original. As well as the collaboration of the protagonists’ ages, I found it very interesting to see how the characters’ life spanned out and then came to a close. The line at the end really set the tone of the piece as well “What about everyone else’s stories” showed just how many injustices and problems there are, and still are happening in Africa. It also introduced me to modern aspects of African cultures and the inevitable changes it has gone through after colonisation. It is also very interesting to see how African people perceive western people; when they believed America was the promise land etc. and also how much money and power is just as much a driving force in their culture as it is ours.
It was bizarre just how similar the African culture is to my own culture and it resonated in that piece very strongly. The strong family bonds and friendships made within the characters were extremely invigorating to watch and also very moving. I really appreciated the opportunity and hope there are many more to come throughout my years at university.’
Rachel Sargent, BA Philosophy