The Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble is known for its South African-flavoured reimaginings of works from the Western canon. While Adelaide Festival audiences thrill to Barrie Kosky’s Magic Flute, others may recall the Ensemble’s version, its setting translocated to a South African township, from the 2011 Melbourne Festival. By contrast, the music drama A Man of Good Hope draws on a contemporary source: white South African writer Jonny Steinberg’s 2015 book of the same name, a work of narrative non-fiction based on extensive interviews with Asad Abdullahi, a Somali refugee.
Directed by Mark Dornford-May and developed with London’s Young Vic – currently under the artistic directorship of Kwame Kwei-Armah, who has Grenadian and Ghanaian heritage – the play relates Asad’s coming of age as a refugee in flight from the Somali Civil War. Buffeted by violence but propelled by a keen entrepreneurialism, he winds up in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and finally Johannesburg, a perilous journey of almost 5,000 kilometres, seemingly beset at every turn by local militias, petty criminals, and corrupt officials.