Mama Afrika

Mar 15 2024 | By More

★★★☆☆   Magnetic performance

Assembly Roxy: Thurs 14 Mar 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Mama Afrika – from Tambai Productions and Arts La’Olam at Assembly Roxy for one night only as part of a tour – is an engaging, informative and tuneful depiction of a giant of African culture.

The title was a name bestowed on Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the South African singer, songwriter, actor and civil rights activist. She was one of the first performers to bring African music to a worldwide audience and a campaigner against apartheid – something that left her in exile for a large portion of her life.

Anna Mudeka in Mama Afrika. Pic: Gideon Graylyons

Makeba is played by Anna Mudeka in a one-person show scripted by Tomas Lutuli Brickhill and directed by Tonia Daley-Campbell.

There is no doubt whatsoever about the quality of Mudeka’s performance. This is a beautifully sustained piece of acting that brings the character to life, and features notably strong singing as well as an obvious rapport with the audience.

Brickhill’s script covers Makeba’s adult life in some depth. However, an attempt to be all-encompassing does make it a little awkward at times. The encyclopaedic approach can become prosaic; there are too many moments of exposition, or one-sided telephone conversations introducing dramatic events.

This means that we learn a great deal about the events of Makeba’s life but get frustratingly little sense of her as a person. The most effective moments are when the linear biographical structure is abandoned and it becomes more impressionistic; a song dissolving into footage of the Sharpeville massacre, Makeba giving way to grief, or a sequence featuring Makeba’s spirit.

fluid and careful

The direction, however, smooths over many of the bumpier moments, being impressively fluid and careful. The songs are well chosen, cleverly placed in the narrative and majestically performed. The recorded backing from Zivai Guveya is (despite an over-reliance on cheap-sounding keyboard voices) always sympathetic.

The set, much like the script, suffers a little from trying too hard. The various areas representing places Makeba lived are a clever touch, but there is too much furniture on stage, and it becomes distracting.

No such criticism for Edith KaNgwenya’s costumes, which signal the various divisions of the story as well as being striking in their own right.

The documentary footage, full of impact at first, is subsequently overused, with its impact diminishing. While the technical side of the production is handled very well, there are moments at the end of both halves when it is not necessarily clear whether the play has finished.

None of which detracts too much from Mudeka’s magnetic performance, which certainly does justice to a major cultural figure.

Running time: Two hours including one interval
Assembly Roxy (upstairs), 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Thursday 14 March 2024 at 7.30 pm
Run ended

Mama Afrika on tour 2024:

Sunday 17 March
Soul On Ice at Richmix London
Book Tickets

Thursday 18th April –
New Wolsley Theatre, Ipswich
Book Tickets

Friday 3 May
St Georges Theatre, Great Yarmouth
Book Tickets

Saturday 4 May
Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester
Book Tickets

Friday 17 May
Storyhouse, Chester
Book Tickets

Saturday 18 May
Celebrating Sanctuary at Mac, Birmingham

Thursday 30 May
Derby Theatre, Derby
Book Tickets

Friday 31 May
Westacre Theatre, King’s Lynn
Book Tickets

Saturday 1June
The Corn Hall, Diss

Anna Mudeka website:


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.