If you don’t leave the Market Theatre after jamming sessions with the cast of Drum Struck with your hands on fire, then you probably had your hands tied behind your back during the show. Curiosity has already grabbed you from the minute you enter the theatre, when you find a djembe drum on every seat. The smell of wood and tanned cowhide permeates the old theatre, and the stage is set up with a variety of African drums decorated with ethnic designs.
Inevitably, the bolder of the audience members start to thump the cowhide surface before the show starts, and a riot of untamed beats ripples through the auditorium.
This spontaneous showmanship is only the beginning of the audience’s thirst to participate in the beat of the show.
The infectious rhythm of the multi-talented Drum Struck cast grabs you from the minute they enter. Dressed in bright tribal and ethnic costumes, they burst onto stage in a flood of colour and sound. Even the rhythmically challenged will manage to follow some of the beats along the way, and even if you miss a beat your mistake will be drowned out by the giant drums on stage providing the main musical framework. The main facilitator, Encoch Mahlangu, who gained most of his experience leading corporate drumming circles, has a magical charisma and humour that enchant the audience to play along in games involving djembes, clapping, the clicking of fingers and choruses.
In a way, it is like being transported back to kindergarten when you were allowed to play simple percussion musical instruments; in those days, you weren’t afraid that people were going to laugh at you. I remember my moment at a concert when I was allowed to “ping” the triangle.
At Drum Struck, the whole audience is allowed to bang on a drum the entire time – well, almost! It’s a treat for the musical soul!
Special acts are also featured, like the drumming “competition” between two class drummers, Richard Carter and Africa Djane – a breathtaking display of skill and mastery.
The act by the Bushmen dancers is a gifted portrayal of another era where wild animals come to life through body movements and song. Gumboot dancing is brought to new heights by the professionalism of the troupe and the sheer physicality of their movements. The vocal backing provided the mostly buxom and very attractive women of the cast adds to the range and variety of the show. If there is any criticism of show, it is that the links between acts should be more obvious. But as a piece of musical magic, Drum Struck is sheer enjoyment from the word go. It offers the members of the audience a chance to let their hair down, immerse themselves in an African eclectic experience and pound out their frustrations on a very forgiving djembe drum while having the time of their life.
Full kudos to director Kathy-Jo Ross and producer and creator Warren Lieberman for bringing this concept back to the stage for a second time. I believe it will become a global hit, like other South African phenomena.