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Thursday, 5 July 2018

REVIEW: SS Mendi Dance of the Death Drill at the Nuffield Southampton Theatre

Nuffield City Theatre in Southampton's third production in its main house since opening earlier this year follows up on from its first success, Shadow Factory about the bombing in the Second World War Spitfire factory in Woolston with another local World War story. The SS Mendi was also known as the black Titanic when it sank off the Isle of Wight at 4.57 am on 21 February 2017 with the loss of over 600 lives and yet the story is not as well known as either the Titanic sinking or Spitfire factory bombing. Of course in the context of the time, this was just a few more tragic deaths alongside so many tragic deaths in the WW1 trenches but the story has real poignancy and its exposure of cultural clashes and tension is as relevant today as it was central to the story of the past. 

In commissioning the extraordinarily talented Isango Ensemble from Capetown and under the tight but collaborative direction of Mark Dornford-May, the NST has given the story development to a group of performers who know each other well, many performing together for several years and it is hard to imagine a more appropriate group to bring the story to life. As Zamile Gantana says as he opens the show, sat centre stage on a wooden box, they rehearsed in South Africa close to where the ship's passengers spent their last night on land back on 5th January 1917 and part of their aim in dancing the death drill was to bring peace to those souls who lost their lives when it sank.
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