Belfast Telegraph

Zambian theatre company Barefeet comes to The MAC

Thursday, June 26, 8pm

Zambian theatre company Barefeet is promising there won't be a dry eye in the house when they bring their latest production to the MAC next week.

Float is described as a "wild, wicked and wonderful" adventure based on Zambian folklore about Nyaminyami, the god of the Zambezi river.

In usual Barefeet style the high-energy performance will include song, dance, drumming and acrobatics and the performers themselves are young adults who used to live on the streets in Zambia.

The performance includes song, dance, drumming and acrobatics and an added dimension is that many of the young people in the company – both on stage and behind the scenes – used to live on the streets, as Barefeet is not only a professional theatre company, it is also a charity.

The play is inspired by Frederick Durenmatt’s The Visit and based on themythology surrounding the building of the Kariba Dam in the Zambezi river which flows through the African nation and is responsible for Victoria Falls.

Legend has it Nyaminyami was less than impressed when construction work began on one of the world’s largest dams in the 1950s and caused a flood that halted things for quite some time.

One school of thought says Nyaminyami takes the form of a whirlwind, another that he is dragon-like with a snake’s torso and the head of a fish.

Whatever form he takes he’s not to be trifled with according to Ballymoney man Adam McGuigan who is the theatre company’s artistic director.

Mr McGuigan describes Nyaminyami as “a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, only less pleasant”.

The Zambian theatre company is touring Ireland, north and south, England, Scotland and the US this summer with a dozen young performers who once lived on the streets of the African nation.

“From very humble beginnings armed only with some face paint and a drum or two Barefeet has emerged as a vibrant, award winning theatre company that has performed in Europe, South Africa and Zimbabwe and this is our second visit to Ireland,” Mr McGuigan explained.

Barefeet is not only a professional theatre company, it is also a charity that he set up eight years ago to help children who live on the streets and those at risk of running away from their communities.

Outreach workers encourage the children to attend performance workshops held at 40 children’s homes and drop-in centres in five parts of the country where they receive information on health issues such as drugs, abuse and HIV and Aids and explore those themes through drama, dance, singing and acrobatics.

Each group works towards a performance at the annual Barefeet festival which Mr McGuigan said is helping to eradicate the stigma of being a child of the streets and encouraging the children to turn their lives around.

He said life on the streets is cruel and the children revel in the creative outlet provided by Barefeet.

“When you reach any major African city you will at some stage come across a young child barefoot and dressed in torn and ragged clothes. The child may be as young as six, high on drugs, filthy and asking for money.

“These children are demanding, often volatile and always planning the next hit. They are exposed to physical and sexual abuse and invisible to most people.

“These are the children Barefeet works with and they are some of the most inspirational and imaginative individuals who are amazing and fiercely loyal and all they need is a little help.

"Children living on the streets have to grow up fast in order to survive and for a few hours every week Barefeet lets them be children and have fun.

“Barefeet uses theatre to help them find their voice and gives them the tools to turn their lives around.

“We take some of these young performers on as apprentices and they are nowadult performers in our touring theatre company."

Float is being performed in the MAC in Belfast on Thursday June 26 and in the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin on Thursday July 3.

There are a number of other performances and workshops scheduled for Portstewart (Saturday June 28), Dublin and Limerick.

Barefeet has also been selected to take part in international festival Brouhaha which will see it perform in England alongside other companies from around the world next month.

Float by Barefeet is at the MAC in Belfast on Thursday June 26 and tickets are £10 and available from the MAC. For more information visit and

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