From the Black Titanic to Christ’s Crucifixion: South Africa’s Isango Ensemble Deuts a searing duet

Visionary South African theatre company, Isango Ensemble, makes its powerful Brisbane debut with a spine-tingling double-bill; SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill and St Matthew Passion at Brisbane Festival 2019.

One, the devastating story of “The Black Titanic”, the other, a spellbinding musical enactment of Christ’s final hours on earth, playing QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre and Concert Hall from 5-7 September and 8 September, respectively.

Based in Cape Town, Isango Ensemble is internationally renowned for re-imagining Western theatre classics and presenting them with a South African perspective.

Brisbane Festival Artistic Director David Berthold said that this award-winning company has played around the world to incredible acclaim.

“We are thrilled to welcome their two newest works to Australia as Brisbane Festival exclusives,” Mr Berthold said.

SS Mendi is a moving music theatre piece inspired by a tragic real-life maritime disaster that became one of South Africa’s most potent political symbols.

In January 1917, more than 800 South African men – volunteers for the British Army – boarded the SS Mendi, bound for the Western Front.

The Mendi collided with a Royal Mail cargo ship, its captain and crew standing idly by as the Mendi sank, claiming the lives of 646 of its passengers.

SS Mendi is a celebration of life at the moment of death and a startling story of how disaster gave rise to a life of hope, courage and resilience.

“SS Mendi’s combination of original music – sung in soaring harmonies – inspired choreography and a powerful narrative will deeply move audiences,” Mr Berthold said.

Isango Ensemble follows this production with an equally electrifying performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, regarded as one of history’s finest choral works.



The partially staged rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s work – first performed on Good Friday,1727 – is executed with mighty vocal splendour, a layered sense of historical context and symbolism, and a full marimba orchestra.

“This concert will be powerful, personal and filled with revelation,” Mr Berthold said.

“St Matthew Passion combines drama with devotion. Here, Bach’s glorious music is set alongside South African laments and traditional songs, with Christ positioned as a teacher in an occupied land. It’s only the second time it’s been performed in the world, and it’s one of the experiences I’m most looking forward to in the Festival.”

Isango Ensemble – Isango meaning “gateway” or “port” in Xhosa and Zulu – was formed in 2000 and draws its artists from the townships surrounding Cape Town.

Artists at all stages of their creative development are involved in creating work reflecting their heritage.

Isango Ensemble Associate Director and Co-Music Director Mandisi Dyantyis said the company is eager two bring two major works to Australia for Brisbane Festival in September.

“Isango is very excited to be part of a very diverse festival with very different performances and performers from around the world,” Mr Dyantis said.

SS Mendi plays QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre from 5-7 September and St Matthew Passion plays QPAC’s Concert Hall from 8 September.

Brisbane Festival opens the doors to 23 days of revelry, revelations and romance from 6 – 28 September 2019. A full program of theatre, music, dance, opera, circus and major public events is available at

Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
5-7 September 2019

Concert Hall, QPAC
8 September 2019