A Man of Good Hope at Adelaide Festival

Chronicling one man’s remarkable life as it criss-crosses some of the world’s most charged contemporary issues: human trafficking, migration, poverty and xenophobia, A Man of Good Hope is a modern African odyssey, rich with fresh insights into resilience, survival and leavened by humour and the all-too-human idiosyncrasies of those he meets in his journey into the continent’s south. Carly spoke with Director Mark Dornford-May about the Isango Ensemble, the story's gritty subject matter and why this show has received critical acclaim across the world. Read the full interview below:

Mark Dornford-May, Director

You and Isango Ensemble have a history of adapting Western classic theatre to South African or township contexts. What first inspired you to do this? 


Isango is a South African company and therefore we look at things from a South African perspective just as any other theatre company does wherever they are based if they believe that theatre should represent the society of which it is a part.


What do you believe is this theatre company's greatest achievement?


To have survived for over twenty years producing work which has been of a sufficient quality to tour the world.


A Man of Good Hope is based on a true story, or more specifically based on a book that tells a true story, that of Asad Abdullahi. Can you tell us a little about the story and what specifically about it grabbed you?


The story is one of hope and determination, and enormous humanity; it is those qualities which inspired us to adapt the book.


The musical has received fantastic critical reception all over the world. Why do you think it resonates so well with audiences?


The soundscape for this production is drawn from music traditions from all over Africa. It is the enormous range and quality of the musical cultures of the continent which draws the audience into the story.


What is the role of music in this show? What does it add to the story, the characters and their experiences?


As in all our work, music is integral to the story-telling. We simply do not work without music.


This is not your traditional subject matter for a musical and certainly not a simple story. What difficulties did you face in adapting the book for stage?


It is difficult to adapt any literary work - a sentence on a page can sometimes need half an hour's  stage time similarly twenty pages can need only a look from an actor; it is juggling these two opposite truths which is the greatest difficulty. As the book is based on Asad's life often narrated in his own words we felt a tremendous obligation to adapt it from the page to the stage as faithfully as possible - hopefully we succeeded.


This story is more relevant than ever, particularly in the wake of President Trump’s “travel ban”. How did the news of this ban affect yourself and members of the company who were preparing for the show’s New York opening at the time?


President Trump's fear of the "other" displays his enormous lack of humanity; it is these narrow-minded attitudes we challenge with our work.




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Peter Brook's 1960's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go? 


Dream show to direct? 

Whatever we at Isango decide to do next.

Plays, musicals or operas? 

All of them.


A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

My children.​

What’s next for you after this show?


A Man of Good Hope opens at The Royalty Theatre in Adelaide on March 5. You can get your tickets here.

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