Post-Shaftesbury Umoja Beats into Queens in JuneDate: 23 April 2002
South African song and dance show Umoja, which closed prematurely on 7 February 2002 following noise complaints and council intervention at the Shaftesbury Theatre, has confirmed that it will reopen in the West End this summer. As previously predicted in The Goss, it will follow fellow South African hit The Mysteries into the Queens Theatre from 4 June, although exact dates for previews and a new press opening night have yet to be confirmed.
Producer Joe Theron told Whatsonstage.com that the show would be "booking for as long as possible", with the hope that it will have a run of at least "a couple of years" in London. Prior to its enforced closure at the Shaftesbury, where it first opened on 15 November, Umoja had become a surprise hit - following critical raves and enthusiastic audiences, it had just announced a three-month extension to its original three-month season.
Created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, Umoja incorporates the rhythms of tribal music, gumboot dancing, jazz, gospel and the contemporary sounds of Kwaito and Pantsula. South Africa's musical heritage is represented throughout the show by a company of versatile young singers, dancers, drummers and marimba players, many of whom come from severely disadvantaged township backgrounds.
During the Umoja's Shaftesbury run, residents in the adjacent flats complained that the live drums used beat too loudly. After visits from environmental officers, the theatre was served with a Noise Abatement Notice and the show closed with immediate effect. Despite weeks of negotiations, thousands of pounds' worth of remedial work to insulate the area, and protests from the Society of London Theatre, mayor Ken Livingstone and others, Theron and the theatre lost their battle to resume the show's season there. The Shaftesbury, which remains dark, continues to appeal against the council action.
The Mysteries finishes its extended season at the Queens Theatre on 18 May, after which it embarks on a world tour with a Broadway opening anticipated in early 2003.
- by Terri Paddock