‘Miss Mathematics’ performance opens the 2015 Barefeet Festival in Zambia

Sara Drawwater
26 August 2015
This year, Barefeet’s One Drum Many Beats Festival opened with, Miss Mathematics; a tale of triumph and adversity set to the sounds of the late great, Michael Jackson. The adventure’s backdrop is a…

Barefeet Theatre productions have a way of catapulting you to worlds that may be outside our bubble of reality, but are still warm and familiar. From the streets of Charles Dickens’s vivid imagination to the jaws of Lake Kariba’s fabled Nyami-Nyami, every performance stays with you like the scent of a close uncle’s expensive cologne. Miss Mathematics simply added to the wonder.

This year, Barefeet’s One Drum Many Beats Festival opened with, Miss Mathematics; a tale of triumph and adversity set to the sounds of the late great, Michael Jackson. The adventure’s backdrop is a troubled Central African country and the story of Annie Phiri (Miss Mathematics), her brother Michael and their memorable siblings as they journey through the treacherous conflict riddled land, literally seeking greener pastures in the form of the king of pop’s Neverland Ranch. Urged on by the wild imagination of Michael and the mathematically charged sensibilities of Annie, the kids meet a variety of motley characters after they are separated from their families and go on to show us that faith and love conquer all. Though they never reach their desired destination, the children learn life lessons along the way and reach a destination more rooted in reality without compromising a happy ending.

The story of Miss Mathematics was inspired by real events. Adam McGuigan, Barefeet’s creative director and writer of the piece said the idea came to him when Esther, a girl living at Mayuka Refugee Resettlement told her story.

She lived in DR Congo where her family was displaced by the conflict there. When she told her tear jerking story, she lit up considerably when she spoke about her love for school and mathematics. Though the play had many happy moments, it was grounded in the real world problems of civil war and the unforgiving reverberating ripples it causes in people’s lives, both young and old.

The spectacle began with flashing lights and the instrumentation of Michael Jackson’s, Smooth Criminal and ended with a rendition of, We are the World that may have brought tears of joy to many audience members when dozens of kids came on stage.

Elaborate props crafted from wood, cloth, ingenuity and elbow grease stood on the Pestallozi Premium stage, surrounded or mounted by the kids from the school. They donned fedoras, ties, and a wardrobe of Michael inspired costumes, coming alive to the rhythm of the songs and stage lights.

The choir from Pestalozzi and sound engineers evoked emotion in the audience using timely vocals and covers of M.J’s instrumentals. Michael Phiri, played by Richard Mulenga, showed heart when he sang, Earth Song and asked in his best Michael Jackson impression, ‘what about the common man?’ Maureen Lilanda, who played Michael, Annie and their siblings’ mother touched hearts when she crooned the lyrics to, I’ll be There. Stealing the show was a never to be forgotten performance of Thriller that had eerie traditional masks and a graveyard scene. Barefeet’s, Chembe and his cross dressing comedic role of Miss Alice, a cruel teacher also drew many laughs from the crowd.

All the children that came on stage looked like they enjoyed putting on a performance for the folks that came out to watch them. The folks themselves showed their appreciation with a resounding standing ovation. Miss Mathematics was a very fun watch and had many singing along to Jackson’s most popular songs. This theatrical performance was set to a rhythm, dance and spectacle that would have made the king of pop proud.

The Barefeet Festival is on from 21st to 29th of August and will have a series of art inspired performances, workshops and events. Today is:

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By Benny Blow, read bennyblow.blogspot.com