phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement
Cape Town Opera / John Snelling

“He’s an ordinary man who did extraordinary things” - An Interview with Michael Williams about The Mandela Trilogy

23 August 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber

The Mandela Trilogy is making its London debut at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall this month as part of the Africa Utopia festival, a celebration of modern Africa and the African diaspora. One of the highlights of this exciting season is the extraordinary musical telling of South Africa’s former president and national freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. We sit down with Michael Williams, the musical’s writer and Managing Director of the Cape Town Opera, to chat about this spectacular musical adaptation and the life and legacy of South Africa’s Father.

London Calling: How did the idea for this musical come about? Why Nelson Mandela?
 
Michael Williams: In 2008, we heard the news that South Africa would be hosting the 2010 World Cup. And it seemed an important occasion for Cape Town Opera. It made no sense to put on Rigoletto, or la Bohème or Madame Butterfly. We thought we should do something that is important and something that is ultimately South African. And then the Artistic Director said to me, “Michael it should be an opera on Nelson Mandela because he is, after all, the Son of Africa.”
 
LC: How did you tackle the mammoth task of condensing Mandela’s life into a short amount of show time?
 
MW: In 2008, I started researching the subject of Mandela and, imagine writing an opera on the life of Winston Churchill…
 
LC: What a huge task!
 
MW: A Huge task! [Laughs] I mean, Mandela had this incredible life that spanned 95 years, and he was incarcerated for 27 of those years. So, as I started reading and delving more into the subject, I realised this was a task that I’d have to think about in a very different way. Then I looked at what I think is a very key thing when creating theatrical works, which is conflict. And so I looked at the conflicts in his life, and there were many, but the key ones became the three pillars for the piece.
 
LC: What’s involved in the first part?
 
MW: The first one is Mandela as a young man. He went into the bush, underwent an initiation, came out as a man, and there’s normally a huge celebration since you’ve now entered manhood. But the chief of the tribe absolutely rained on his parade, and said you’re going be nothing but a slave in this country and your destiny is that of being a garden boy. And Mandela was so upset with the chief’s statement. And yet, he learnt later on that that was the beginning of the political seed that had been sewn in him. And then I started thinking that, all of this first act revolves around this issue of the young man, his relationship with his surrogate father, his conflict with the traditional way of the tribe, and eventually stealing his father’s cattle and hightailing it off to Johannesburg to break from the traditional way of life. And suddenly the first act was there.
 
LC: And the second and third acts?
 
MW: The second came about because I was fascinated with Mandela’s fascination with women. The conflict that was paramount when he got to Johannesburg was the marriage to Evelyn. He had affairs with various women and eventually Evelyn left him and sued for divorce. And so the second act is around the three women in his life. And then the third act is about the three prisons that he was incarcerated in. I started picking up on the number three. Three acts, he was in three prisons…Oh, there could be three Mandelas! And then suddenly it all just came together.
 
LC: So how does the music match the different parts of Mandela’s life?
 
MW: Well I thought, why not actually incorporate in a very South African way, the music of the countryside, and then have the jazz music of the 50s, and then the third act, when he’s incarcerated in prison, it had to be operatic. So there you had your three very clear musical styles. And I got two composers to create this soundscape to Mandela’s life that illustrated what he was going through at the time.
 
LC: How has Mandela inspired you personally?
 
MW: Every South African has a personal connection with Mandela because we lived through a terrible time here. I was 18 years old when the country was on the brink of a civil war, so for me it’s so much a part of my life. And now, I have the distance of looking back on the last 20 years and seeing the impact of what Mandela did for us, which is just incredible to stop the country from descending into civil war. But the phrase that continually resonates with me which I think is his legacy for the world, is when he said that the purpose of freedom is to create it for others. What a powerful idea; that we who are free, what we need to do is to ensure that that freedom is given and created for other people who are not free. And even though he’s no longer with us it’s something that I live by.
 
LC: What are you hoping people take away from the musical?
 
MW: I want people to leave the musical in awe of Mandela’s stature and also to understand that he was both a sinner and a saint. Because the first half is all about the mistakes that he made and the second half is about his successes. So you can see that he’s really an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.
 
The Mandela Trilogy will be showing at Royal Festival Hall between the 31st August and 3rd September 2016. Book tickets online.
{ad-placement-MPU1}

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema

What to See at The Cinema

Your go-to guide to what's on the silver screen
Advertisement
Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

The five finest spots in London to shoot the breeze and pass the pipe
Advertisement
The Best Riverside Walks In London

The Best Riverside Walks In London

Oh we do like to be beside the canalside...
Advertisement
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

Looking to beat the heat or enjoy some fun in the sun? Here are our top 5 London lidos to enjoy this summer.
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week

Top Theatre of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
Top Exhibitions of the Week

Top Exhibitions of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

With the balmy weather here to stay, why not take in the sumptuous beauty that these London flower shows have to offer
Top Gigs of the Week

Top Gigs of the Week

From underground indie to rap stars to house legends, we've got you covered...
Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Even if the Easter bunny doesn’t visit your garden this month, there are plenty of ways to get your sweet fix this springtime

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement