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Really more than just an adventure?

PUBLISHED: 15:26 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:29 01 July 2010

The 02 Arena has become the Bluewater of pop, drawing in crowds from the southeast to eat, socialise and gawp at the transformation of this white elephant into a world class entertainment complex,

The 02 Arena has become the Bluewater of pop, drawing in crowds from the southeast to eat, socialise and gawp at the transformation of this white elephant into a world class entertainment complex, writes theatre critic Edward Martyn.

Afrika! Afrika! is the latest offering to tempt jaded post Christmas families, and if they have a big wallet they will be rewarded with a truly spectacular show.

This is a full night out, starting with drinks and munchies, served by German speaking Africans in an Arab tent to get you in the mood for something a little different from Barbara Streisand...

Then into the vast, seemingly square tent with projections on the ceiling, smoke to disorient us and a portentous voice-over telling us how to enjoy ourselves. After this inauspicious start it takes a few moments for the hard-working African Ballet to engage our wandering thoughts, but once engaged we are transported to another world, where the body is flaunted, pummelled, stretched beyond imagined limits, and all this to a wonderful soundtrack plus live African musicians of the highest quality.

I have admired African music for a long time and it is used here in all its varied forms, from solo singers with string instruments to high tech. jazz band accompaniments that raise the roof whilst smoothing your soul.

What next? Stiltwalkers (A la the Lion King) Harlem Globetrotters, then the real Spiderman, a contortionist extraordinaire, Tap dancing in a goldmine? No problem.

Then a collection of mud hut tumbler-dancers, joined by harlequin costumed cohorts, they join together in a tour de force. This is tumbling to die for (if you're not extremely careful!)

Before we can catch our breath two pistol-shot drummers whip some dancers to a frenzy and as they disappear an amazingly muscled man winds himself up to the ceiling and proceeds to fly without wings...

A spellbinding juggler does impossible things with small white balls and just for a change six guys named Mo show what can be done with a breakdance...

The younger members of the family will love it a, but it is difficult with a show like this to reconcile the acres of blurb in the programme, detailing the lofty motives of the producers with the sheer street cred and joyous exhibitionism of the performers. The musicians speak for themselves and would be welcomed anywhere in the world but the performers need a hard-headed business type and a retinue of paid exploiters to establish this continent hopping extravaganza, and it leaves one vastly entertained but worried that yet again we have participated in another 'African' adventure.

* Afrika! Afrika! is at the O2 from now until April 19. Tickets: £35 - £65. Length: two hours and thirty minutes.

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