FRINGE REVIEW – Zambezi Express, Assembly Hall


7 – 30 Aug (not 23), 1200 (1315) @ Assembly Hall, The Mound

By Danielle Farrow

The Zambezi Express line – the ‘bez’ of Zambezi pronounced more like ‘baize’ than ‘bees‘ – is one of the great train journeys and, in this energetic musical, taking this Express is a great journey for a young talented footballer who goes to ‘the big city’ to become a football hero and faces some hard bullying pursuing his dream. There really is little else to the plot, and that is unfortunate.
The show is somewhat cabaret-like in that it runs through some decent song and dance numbers linked by small sections of story. We are treated to very fine a capella vocals, grand rhythms on the drums, athletic dancing and touches of teasing humour. However, whilst it is easy to appreciate the performers’ skills in these areas, only a few came across very strongly as actors / characters – the father (and coach), one of the brothers (Mbuso) and sometimes the hero and his girlfriend. For all the enthusiasm, there was a sense of something missing. The show is not sufficient to carry the talent and none of the numbers proved particularly memorable. At one point, this reviewer sat up and took notice because a brilliant piece started up – and quickly changed: the beginning was so much like a wonderful song from the fantastic African musical Ipi Ntombi it was a shock (it is possible both numbers are based on traditional songs).
In fact, Zambezi Express feels very much like a watered down version of that earlier musical phenomenon: the elements of miners’ and warriors‘ dances, luggage handling, comparing country and town and showing different musical styles for each, finding one’s place in the world – all these and more are exactly the same, as is the mix of soulful and wild music. But where Ipi Ntombi has depth, glorious impact and obviously strong roots, Zambezi Express does not.
Fine set vocal pieces, grand rhythms that get the body moving, and a sense of hard work on offer make this a show worth seeing – but a very similar piece has been created before fantastically well, and in what seems to be a rather blatant attempt to mix the same ingredients here, the vital elements of depth and magic have been lost.

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