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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:11 GMT
'Noise' threat to African musical
Cast were recruited from South Africa's under-privileged
London's hit musical Umoja, a journey through South African culture and history, is under threat from nearby residents.

People living near the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End have said that the noise of the show's drumming is impossible to live with.

The musical has been a popular success and had its run extended to May.

African drums are designed this way

Director Joe Theron
But the show's producers now face the possibility of a hefty fine - or footing the cost of adding sound insulation to the theatre.

Environmental officers from Camden Council have already visited neighbouring flats in King Edward Mansions and confirmed there is a "statutory noise nuisance".

A spokesman for the council told BBC News Online it was a "unique case".

It is the first hit musical since the end of Apartheid
"The bass noise is the problem," he said.

"It's not so much about the decibel level of the volume - but the frequency.

"Residents have said that previous musicals produced occasional noise, but this is constant."

Council officials will visit the theatre and residents' flats again on Thursday and hope to make a decision on the case by Friday.

"On Thursday we're carrying out tests to see what the noise levels are. If the theatre has to be insulated the production would have to bear the cost," said the spokesman.

But the show's director Joe Theron is sceptical about the complaints.

"Exactly two people have complained," he told BBC News Online.

'Entertainment capital'

"And two other people who own a flat in King Edward Mansions but don't live there, signed a petition.

"In all fairness, you don't buy a flat in the West End and not expect some level of music and noise - this is the entertainment capital of the world."

The show has had standing ovations every night
Mr Theron maintains that there is little more he can do: "African drums are designed this way - we've done whatever we can, we've put pillows in the drums and sand in them, and we've played the show without amplification.

"You can't tell a drummer to play softer - it's like telling an actor to act less well."

Ujoma is the first hit musical to have come out of post-Apartheid South Africa.

The show's 30 performers were assembled by Jointt Productions, who recruit from the homeless, criminals and drug users.

The show celebrates the many genres of the country's music and has, the producers say, been greeted with standing ovations every night.

The council spokesman was confident that the noise complaints would not result in the show being closed.

"There seems to be a willingness on both side to sort this out rather than resort to getting lawyers involved," he said.

And Mr Theron said: "I will do whatever I can to bring the level down without sacrificing the show or cast members."

See also:

17 Nov 01 | Reviews
South African show has impact
20 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Noisy neighbours face crackdown
26 Nov 01 | Health
Noise 'threat to health'
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