All Aboard And Catch The Express!

Standing ovation at Riverside Studios

Information and related stories

            Zambezi Express

Friday 4th Sept - Sunday 27th Sept
Tue-Fri at 8pm
Sat at 2pm, 5pm, 8pm
Sun at 2pm, 5pm
(No shows on Sunday 20th Sept)

Tickets: £20, £15 concessions
Limited number of £10 recession tickets

Riverside Studios box office (open 12-9pm): 0208 237 1111

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I can't say that waiting for a train has ever inspired me to do anything much more than grumble or pace impatiently up and down the platform. But villagers waiting for the Zambezi Express, in a show of the same name that has just opened at Riverside Studios, clearly find the anticipation of the train's arrival quite overwhelming and prepare for the event with a great outpouring of joyful song and dance.

The Zambezi Express is the steam train that runs from the Victoria Falls - on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe - to Bulawayo and down to South Africa. For the people of the townships, it offers an escape route to South Africa where dreams can be fulfilled. “When the Zambezi arrives, everyone comes alive,” the villagers sing. You can tell these people are not waiting for the 8.06 to Waterloo because they are just too happy.

The show, which has been two years in the making, is a feast for both the eyes and ears. In the space of just over two hours, we were treated to smooth acapella vocals, African drumming, slick choreography, acrobatics and an outburst of colour as the women repeatedly changed their outfits, appearing in red, gold and green one minute and dancing around in Wellington boots the next.

Zambezi Express is a story that was inspired by the 2010 World Cup, due to be held in South Africa, and is essentially about a boy named Mzili (Makhula Moyo) who dreams of leaving the slums and travelling to the big city to become a football star. It is billed as 'The Happiest Show on Earth' and, it has to be said, the cast - made up of the Zimbabwean drumming and dance group Siyaya - are quite irrepressibly and infectiously happy.

Siyaya come from a Bulawayo township and were discovered by circus entrepreneur Gerry Cottle during the WOMAD festival. For the Zambezi Express, the 15-strong group took on another 15 performers who had never left Zimbabwe. Siyaya's director, Saimon Mbazo Phiri, says taking the show on tour has not been without its difficulties: “Our being here has not been easy and saying we struggled a lot will not be an exaggeration. Despite financial, immigration, socio-economic and logistical hurdles, we are still the 'last men standing'.”

Despite this, the show is full of humour with Sonia Mbaya, for example, playing the role of a dancer 'with attitude' who has repeated scraps with her sisters in the troupe. The cast even manage to find humour in the dire economic situation back home: in a quite hilarious scene, Mzili challenges a rival to a game of football and as a prize wins a wheelbarrow-full of Zimbabwean dollars.

Cottle is the show's producer and many of the specialist skills were perfected at his circus school, with impressive results. There are some dazzling dance sequences, mainly involving some very sophisticated skipping moves, somersaults while skipping and skipping while balancing on a giant football. There is also a very athletic performance by the men, where they jump in and out of barrels with precision timing.

Mzili finally wins a coveted place on the Big City Chiefs football team after a hilarious competition with four other hopefuls. When he scores the winning goal in a final match, the celebrations naturally include more acrobatics, dance and song.

Throughout the show, the songs are mainly in Ndebele, one of Zimbabwe's officials languages, with only a few sequences in English and on a few occasions, such as when Mzili sings what looks like a very emotional song when the lucky charm given to him by his grandmother is stolen, I would have liked to have been able to follow what was going on.

However, it is the smooth vocals and superb, high-energy dancing that ultimately carry the show, and this is not just foot-tapping stuff. It is the kind of music that makes you want to get up out of your seat and dance and that is precisely what most of the audience were doing by the end. Those that weren't dancing got out of their seats anyway to applaud. And just when you thought the super-fit cast deserved to be signing off for the night, the audience demanded an encore. The cast didn't disappoint.


Yasmine Estaphanos


Having seen the matinee today (Saturday 12/09) with my 10 year old daughter (who absolutely loved it) I defy anyone not to enjoy this show.

It's a positive riot of colour, music, drumming, dancing and energy that has you smiling from the off and leaves you awe struck at the commitment and talent of the whole cast.

Hurry and catch the Zambezi Express whilst you still can.

It runs until 27th September.

Annemarie Flanagan


September 11, 2009