The South African song and dance troupe, Spier Festival Company, return to London this month with their two acclaimed shows, The Mysteries (Yiimimangaliso) and The Beggar's Opera (Ibali IooTsotsi).

As part of a UK-wide schedule (See News, 4 Nov 2002), the former comes to London's Peacock Theatre for one week only this week (3 to 8 March 2003). After completing its tour, the same company will be back at the end of the month to London and Wilton's Music Hall - where they had their UK debut in June 2001 - to reprise its version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera before embarking on a new international schedule.

The Mysteries, a radical reinvention of the Mystery Plays, draws on the country's rich choral township traditions as well as modern rhythms created with oil drums and penny whistles. Four different languages are used in the piece - Afrikaans, English, Xhosa and Zulu - which is performed by a cast of 40 young South African actors of all races, many of whom have had no formal stage training.

Since first being seen in South Africa in 2000, the show has had an extended West End season, running for four and a half months to 18 May 2002 at the Queens Theatre, and toured worldwide. It revisited Wilton's in December 2002, when The Beggar's Opera was added to the Spier repertoire. The latter's new limited season at Wilton's will run for four performances only, from 25 to 29 March 2003.

Gay's 1788 satire on self-interest, public corruption and vice shows a world turned upside down, where only criminals are capable of goodness. The Spier version is set in a South African London in the 1700s. Both productions are directed by Mark Dornford-May and choreographed by Joel Mtethwa, with music direction by Charles Hazlewood.

Built by pub owner John Wilton in 1858, Wilton's is the world's oldest surviving extant music hall, built on the back of a pub. It was closed in the 1880s and later became a Methodist church and then a rag warehouse. Once condemned, it was saved by the intervention of Sir Laurence Olivier, Peter Sellers and Sir John Betjeman.

- by Terri Paddock