Note: The following review dates from November 2001 and this production's original run at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Here's a show to banish the blues. The only pity is that Umoja is not a real musical, but rather a revue of South African song, dance and rhythm, from tribal to urban, and all places inbetween. There is nothing more vibrant, or infectiously performed, on the London stage.

It makes a change, of course, to encounter such an uncomplicated entertainment emerging from that complex rainbow nation. Its previous contributions to world theatre have come to be associated either with the poetic dramas of Athol Fugard or didactically political plays from others, concentrating on the injustice of apartheid or more recently the legacy of it.

This show, on the other hand, has no loftier ambitions than to put a smile on your lips and a swivel in your hips. In that aim, it manifestly succeeds. Played for pure pleasure, not politics, the closest it comes to making a political point is the striking resemblance of its narrator, the benign, white-haired Hope Ndaba, to Nelson Mandela.

Like that great statesman, this show has a generous heart and real humanity and passion. Combining stunning demonstrations of original tribal dances with more contemporary scenes set on the streets of Johannesburg, this cast of 33 performers and musicians are likewise open-hearted and guileless.

Next to the cross-cultural appropriations of this unique style of music that has seen it embraced by everyone from Paul Simon to Disney's {The Lion King::E01822737494}, it's wonderful to see it returned to its originators.

While Ian Von Memerty's script and direction are both limited, the show offers unlimited pleasure.

- by Mark Shenton