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Nuffield Southampton Theatres Present The World Premiere Of SS MENDI: DANCING THE DEATH DRILL

Nuffield Southampton Theatres present the world première of SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill by critically acclaimed Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble. Part of 14-18 NOW, the UK's official arts programme for the First World War centenary, the production commemorates an untold tragedy from WW1 that took place off the coast of Southampton. Prior to rehearsals beginning Samuel Hodges, Director of Nuffield Southampton Theatres will visit Cape Town where the SS Mendi began its journey. Mark Dornford-May directs the production which opens at Nuffield Southampton Theatres on Wednesday 4 July with previews from Friday 29 June and performances until Saturday 14 July. Dubbed the 'Black Titanic', the sinking of SS Mendi was one of the worst maritime disasters in the 20th century in UK waters.

January 1917, 823 South African men board the SS Mendi in Cape Town, volunteers for the British Army bound for the Western Front. Through a tragic twist of fate, Pitso Motaung finds himself aboard.

Months later, the ship sails off the coast of Southampton. Heavy pre-dawn fog shrouds the impending disaster. The collision comes with such force the SS Mendi sinks in minutes. By the time rescue arrives it is too late for most.

Paris, 1958. Two men are dead in a restaurant, attacked by the head waiter Pitso Motaung. Dark memories etched in Pitso's mind are resurfacing decades later to devastating effect.

Director of Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Samuel Hodges said today, ''It's a real privilege to be working with a company of the calibre of Isango Ensemble on this previously untold story from Southampton's past. For a story of this magnitude to have been whitewashed from the history books beggars belief and we're proud to be developing the world premiere, continuing NST's commitment to telling local stories of national and international significance.'

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, said: "We are delighted to be commissioning Isango Ensemble for this powerful work about an untold tragedy. This new production will connect today's audiences to the lost lives and histories from 100 years ago. SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage people in the centenary through the lens of art."

Since 2001 Isango Ensemble has toured its productions to Ireland, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Singapore, Turkey, Japan, Netherlands, Australia, Canada and the United States. Productions include The Mysteries - Yiimimangaliso which had two runs in the West End; uCarmen which toured to many of the world's major festivals; The Magic Flute - Impempe Yomlingo featuring Mozart's score transposed for an orchestra of marimbas, which won both an Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival and the Globes de Cristal for Best Opera following a sold-out season at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris; Venus & Adonis in partnership with Shakespeare's Globe and in 2016 A Man of Good Hope co-produced by Young Vic, Royal Opera, Repons Foundation, BAM and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg. Films created by the ensemble include uCarmen eKhayelitsha which won the Golden Bear at The Berlin International Film Festival as well as many other Best Feature Awards.

Fred Khumalo is the author of the novels Bitches Brew, which was a joint winner of the 2006 European Union Literary Award, and Seven Steps to Heaven. His memoir, Touch My Blood, was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction in 2007, and his most recent book, #ZuptasMustFall and Other Rants, was published in 2016. His short fiction has appeared in various anthologies, literary journals and magazines.

Mandisi Dyantyis is Associate Director and co-Music Director of Isango Ensemble and has been with the company since 2006. He has been co-Music Director and arranger / composer for all Isango

Ensemble productions since 2006, including The Magic Flute (Impempe Yomlingo), A Christmas Carol (iKrismas Kherol), Venus and Adonis, The Mysteries (Yiimimangaliso), Aesop's Fables and The

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo). Other credits include musical director and composer for Isango's Venus & Adonis (Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare's Globe), adaptor of Bizet's Carmen and Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (USA Tour) and composer and conductor for A Man of Good Hope (Young Vic, New York's BAM and Hong Kong Arts Festival). In addition, he arranged and directed the music for the films Unogumbe and Breathe (Umphefumlo).

Mark Dornford-May is co-founder and Artistic Director of Isango Ensemble and has worked in South Africa with members of the company since 2000. He has directed all of Isango's stage productions including The Mysteries - Yiimimangaliso, The Snow Queen, Der Silbersee, The Beggars Opera - Ibali Loo Tsotsi, Carmen, The Magic Flute - Impempe Yomlingo, A Christmas Carol - iKrismas Kherol, Aesop's Fables, La Boheme - Abanxaxhi, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo, Venus and Adonis; and the films he has directed are uCarmen eKhayelitsha, Son of Man, Unogumbe - Noye's and Breathe - Umphefumlo.

Gbolahan Obisesan is Genesis Fellow of the Young Vic Theatre and is under commission to Eclipse Theatre Company. Previous credits include How Nigeria Became: A Story, And A Spear That Didn't Work (Unicorn Theatre), We Are Proud To Present... (Bush Theatre), Pigeon English (Bristol Old Vic / Edinburgh Festival) and Mad About The Boy (Edinburgh Festival and UK tour). He was one of the six writers and the only British writer on Rufus Norris' Feast, commissioned by the Royal Court and The Young Vic for their World Stages London which was produced at The Young Vic, he also directed four plays as part of The Bush Theatre's epic 66 BOOKS project which ran at the Bush and Westminster Abbey. Other directing credits include SUS (Young Vic and UK tour - Jerwood Award for directing) and he was Director in Residence at the National Theatre Studio and resident director for the Fela! (National Theatre). Associate Director credits include The Way of The World, and Julius Caesar (RSC).

SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Repons Foundation and Nuffield Southampton Theatres, with support from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and from the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

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