Madiba the Musical - Australia and New Zealand Tour

Soon to tour around Australia and New Zealand, Madiba the Musical opens in Melbourne on October 3rd where it will run until the shows Sydney opening on November 1st. In anticipation for this great show to hit the stage, Carly spoke with one Blake Erickson about preparing for rehearsals and what it means to be in a show that centrally focuses around Nelson Mandela. Sydney Audiences will remember Blake from his recent role in the Hayes' critically acclaimed production of Cry Baby. As someone with a background in politics and government, Blake was perfectly placed to offer some great insights into tackling this piece - have a read below:

Madiba the Musical will make its Australian debut with this production. Could you tell us a bit about the history of the production - where it’s come from, and what in particular attracted you to this show?

The production is originally French. It has had several very successful productions in Paris and has been touring the country and in fact, the tour has been so successful that they recently extended to Senegal, in Africa itself, which will be extraordinary. Madiba has been an entirely French language production up until this point. Now, this Australian production will be the first time the show is heard in English. It’s been a huge hit in France, which is is a country that has brought us some very successful pieces of musical theatre but is a notoriously difficult nut to crack. So it’s very exciting to be performing this production and singing these songs in English for the first time.

I’ve got a slightly different background than perhaps a lot of people who are working in musical theatre. My background is in politics, in government, in international relations, so I’m very familiar with the story of Nelson Mandela, and I’ve always been really interested in stories that tell the history of people, like Evita. Historic pieces of drama that then zero in on people’s individual stories. I find them so interesting to watch, so the opportunity to be involved in something like that was very enticing. So I’m thrilled to be a part of it. 

Beyond the Mandela storyline, the show really focuses on Apartheid and the racial tension and conflicts that characterised that period. What is it like bringing these themes to life? What prep are you doing before you get into the rehearsal room, and how do you plan to tackle such huge themes?

It’s certainly a very ambitious piece. It started in 1952 and it ended in 1994, and that’s a huge period of time to tell story. Of course, not unprecedented, many shows will cover that length and breadth of time, but focusing on a person’s journey. So with this, we begin before Apartheid, and the lead up to it, and obviously that horrific period of history, and we emerge at the other end with Nelson Mandela, this venerated figure. In terms of preparation for that, I’m reading everything I can, and watching everything I can, and speaking with as many people I can who have experienced being born and growing up in South Africa - from various sides as well. Whether their background be Africana, or white, British South African, or Black South African, there’s so many different cultures and heritages in South Africa at that time that make up the story. There is that historical side to it, but on the other side, it is still a drama, so it’s about finding truth in those dramatic moments rather than just making it a historical reenactment. There’s got to be a beating heart of identifiable characters within the show.

Of course audiences are going to recognise the name Madiba, and the show is being described as a soul-stirring celebration of this visionary leader. Do you feel a certain pressure of living up the Mandela name in this show? If so, how do you overcome that?

Absolutely. Everyone involved in this project has a huge amount of respect for this story, there’s no question that we want to do everything we can to live up to his example and live up to the memory of this extraordinary man. One of the challenges that I face is that the character that I play is not a very nice guy. There was a horrific massacre in 1960 in a place called Sharpeville - Black South Africans were protesting having to carry identity cards, and the authorities basically opened fire on an unarmed group of people. My character is one of those people, and through the years he rises through the ranks to become chief of police. His memory of what he did to those protestors keeps eating away at him - he was never really able to move past that guilt. What this character represents is someone who subjugates an entire section of humanity within this country, and it’s a horrible thing. One of the things that I had to recognise was that if we are going to truly do justice to the achievements of Nelson Mandela, we have to show the horrors of what he was up against. So as awful as it is for me as an actor, to have to say and  do certain things on the stage, if we didn’t it would be insulting to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. We have to do our best to convey to the audience the kind of hurdles that he and other people that were fighting for equality were up against. I have to do my best to represent that.

Production Photos Courtesy of the French Production of Madiba the Musical

Why is this show so important for a 2018 audience to see? What can they expect?

This story is incredibly important because it reminds us that just because something is law, doesn’t mean that it’s right. It also reminds us that to defy the law, to defy what is wrong to do what is right is an honourable thing. In Australia, we see many things happening that we don’t necessarily approve of. You see someone like Mandela,who had everything thrown at him, including being imprisoned on an island for thirty years, and he prevailed. People often talk about the futility of protest, but you can look to his example and see that that’s not the case.

Looking toward the rehearsal period, what’s something you expect you’ll take away from this show, that you haven’t from others? What are you looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to the music, because I think it’s really good. In some ways it’s a rock musical, but then you’ve got these very traditional African harmonies - it’ll be beautiful to be surrounded by. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone! There’s a lot of people I haven’t worked with before.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite production you’ve ever seen?

There’s a musical called The Adding Machine, and I saw a production in a tiny theatre in London that seated about 15 people, and it was the best show that I’ve ever seen.

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

At this time of year? Paris.

Dream role to perform?

George in Sunday in the Park with George.

Plays or musicals?

Can I be annoying and say plays with music?

A hobby you have other than theatre?

iPad painting - so you do it on an iPad, rather than with paper and a brush.

What’s next for you after this show?

Hopefully gainful employment. 

Madiba the Musical will tour Melbourne, Sydney, Warrnambool, Perth and Adelaide before commencing their New Zealand tour in January of 2019.

Click here to learn more and get your tickets today

See below for more sneak peaks at production shots from the French production of Madiba the Musical:

Blake Erickson

Production Photos Courtesy of the French Production of Madiba the Musical

Production Photos Courtesy of the French Production of Madiba the Musical

Production Photos Courtesy of the French Production of Madiba the Musical

Production Photos Courtesy of the French Production of Madiba the Musical

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