Despite weeks of negotiations with Camden Council, South African song and dance show Umoja will not reopen at the West End's Shaftesbury Theatre. The show closed prematurely and with immediate effect on 7 February 2002 when the council enforced a Noise Abatement Notice after residents in the adjacent block of flats complained that the drums used in the show were too loud.

Over the past three weeks, the theatre has worked to find a solution, spending thousands of pounds on remedial work to shore up the party wall shared between the Shaftesbury and the neighbouring flats. But to no avail.

Umoja's producers are searching for an alternative West End venue, although many of the 40-strong cast - all native South Africans, many of whom come from severely disadvantaged township backgrounds - have started to return home. Created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, the show celebrates the rhythms of tribal music, gumboot dancing, jazz and gospel. It opened at the Shaftesbury on 15 November 2001 (previews from 12 November) and, after critical and popular acclaim, had extended its run by three months to 26 May 2002.

The future of the Shaftesbury Theatre itself now hangs in the balance. Of the theatre's 55 staff, 36 have been laid off and more redundancies are expected. A spokeswoman explained to that Camden's Noise Abatement Notice would remain with the venue "in perpetuity". The Shaftesbury, which seats 1,400, however, on the look-out for suitable productions - preferably plays.

The theatre management is in the process of appealing against the Noise Abatement Notice and the way in which it was issued. According to the spokeswoman, the violation decision was reached subjectively, without the use of any scientific measurement equipment.

- by Terri Paddock