Zimbabwean musical drama at Hackney Empire

While some audiences have questioned the upbeat musical for neglecting to feature much of the country’s current problems, it has received near rave reviews from critics.

East end audiences have the chance to decide themselves as Zambezi Express runs at Hackney Empire until October 28 after a regional tour.

The show tells the story of Zilli, a budding footballer from the Zimbabwe slums who overcomes adversity and takes a journey on the famous train to fulfil his dreams in the big city.

The idea started when ex Circus owner Gerry Cottle saw African drumming and dancing group Siyaya perform at a British festival. He invited director Saimon Phiri to write a score and lyrics for a new show to tie in with South Africa hosting the world Cup in 2010.

The show has 30 performers and mixes music, dancing and circus skills in a high-octane visual feast where only 20 per cent of the show focuses on the storyline.

Phiri said: "The energy these guys give is infectious, it comes from the heart. The happiest people come out of a country which is dry, hungry and poor and they are able to do the show despite all their troubles

"Some people say ‘you come here and say everything is fine’ and that is not right, some people feel it’s good to see quality from Zimbabwe."

After the cast was picked from Africa – none of them had ever been out of Zimbabwe – they were trained by Cottle’s circus school to equip them with the skills for the show.

Now with the World Cup just around the corner and South Africa ready to be thrown onto the world stage, Zambezi Express is a prequel of some of the real life stories we are set to see next year.

For tickets, see www.hackneyempire.co.uk