South African journalist and academic Jonny Steinberg, who wrote A Man of Good Hope, says he'll know his book - now a musical – has succeeded if audiences see life as it might have been had they been born somewhere else.

Steinberg – and the Young Vic and Isango Ensemble theatre companies – appears to have done a thoroughly satisfactory job if the reaction of the opening night audience was anything to go by. The production, with a 22-strong African cast, garnered a standing ovation, and talk at the interval was of what it would be like to have, by accident of birth, been born into the circumstances of protagonist Asad Abdullahi.

Asad, from Somalia, was 8 when civil war broke out and his mother was shot and killed before his eyes. He never saw his father or brothers and sisters again. Passed into the care of various relatives, some linked only by distant clan ties, he was both everyone's child and no one's.

"I belong to no one" and "I have no home" sung the young Asad at various times. His was a treacherous journey into manhood as he moved from refugee camp to the homes of fearful relatives, who would flee and leave him behind, to the streets and, eventually, to South Africa with the hope of buying his own truck to set up a business.


That's what I wrote on Friday morning, when one of my biggest concerns was getting this review promptly published so those who read it and were interested enough might have the opportunity to go see it.

There was more; I commented on the performances (excellent), the delight in seeing African story-telling and dance combined with Western theatrical traditions to create something exciting and welcome, and of the necessity of stories like this to make us think about other lives. It's contemporary musical theatre at it's most relevant and thought-provoking, I wrote.

Then everything changed on Friday afternoon when 50 (the revised toll at the time of rewriting this) innocent people were killed and scores more injured in a terrorist act of unprecedented - at least in this country - violence allegedly carried out by a white supremacist.

Almost too shocked and profoundly saddened to even speak, it seems trivial to be concerned with re-writing a play review, but this production doesn't live outside the mass murder that occurred in Christchurch.

It dives right to the heart of why we make enemies of those who are different - because of ethnicity or religion or any other reasons - and the far-reaching and devastating consequences on an individual, indeed the entire human race, of being so fearful, so cruel, so violent and so self-obsessed with holding on to what we have got as individuals instead of considering what we, as a cohesive species, share more than divides us.

Surely, after so many millennia on this one planet, with its finitely beautiful resources, we can and should be and do better? In A Man of Good Hope, the old saying that we're at our best when things are worst gets a hard going over and many people, notably the adults in Asad's life, often come out wanting.

When life is itself is threatened, humanity can be a hard thing to hold on to but if we don't hold on to it, then life itself is taken. Tragedy, calamity and catastrophe dogged Asad at every bend in the road but he really was at his best when things were worst and didn't fail to step in and up to assist those he saw were even more in need of help than he was. Resilience, determination and hope combined with spirit, compassion and a kind-heartedness rarely shown to him.

We need to learn that lesson and we need to learn it and live it a whole lot faster than we are. All over the world. There are things, like tragedy, that bring us together but before it gets to that point, we need to find the common ground that brings us together.


I don't want to sound trite or like I am delivering a lecture, but art is one of those things. Right here, in Auckland, artists from all over the world are telling their stories - which, it turns out, as it so often does, are stories shared by all of us. We need to hear and see and reflect on these. We need to learn.

What: Auckland Arts Festival - A Man of Good Hope
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre; finishes Monday, March 18
Reviewed by: Dionne Christian