“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”
– Muhammad Ali
Imagine being able to hop inside a time machine to attend ‘The great sporting event of the 20th Century’, watched live by over one billion people: the original Rumble In The Jungle.
Well, that’s almost exactly what you’ll get to do at Rumble in the Jungle Rematch, which is one of the most original takes on the immersive theatre genre that we’ve seen all year.
The Rematch team are basically the Secret Cinema of iconic sporting events. They combine aspects of theatre, sport, technology, and immersive experiences into one gigantic, impressive package to bring you back to that event as it was, with all the hoopla, the hype, the food & drink, the music, the fashion, and the energy of the era. Following a test run recreating the thrills of the 1980 Wimbledon finals, Rumble in the Jungle is their first major show, and it’s a doozy.
What looks like an unremarkable warehouse in Canada Water is actually housing a living, breathing snapshot of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the year 1974. There are recreations of street stalls and roadside cafés where you can snack on lituma (plantain bites) and liboke (stewed beef ribs), while learning some basic greetings in Lingala. There’s the sleekly retro Hotel Kinshasa, where you can sip cocktails with a little live jazz. There’s the fantastic live band, who fill the cavernous space with a joyously vibrant set list spanning funk, soul, highlife and more, with an appearance from James Brown himself. And then there’s David Frost and the BBC news crew, who roam around the space capturing the build-up to the fight, interviewing the stars themselves, ticket-holders, and anxious managers as Foreman’s injury pushes the fight back by five weeks.
Thankfully, those five weeks don’t pass in real time, and you’ll get to see the fight itself as the grand finale, almost exactly as it happened. And we’re probably not spoiling anything to say that Rumble in the Jungle was the most intense, jaw-dropping comeback of Muhammad Ali’s career. It was the fight that cemented his legend in the pantheon of great sportsmen, taking on a stronger, younger, and then unbeaten George Foreman in order to reclaim the title he’d had taken from him for refusing the draft in Vietnam.
The performers are perfectly in step with their historic counterparts, jabbing, ducking, and hooking live in time with the original footage projected behind, while the band punctuate every hit with an energetic live score. Thanks to the stunning production quality, the lighting and the fast-flowing commentary, it’s thrilling to watch.
Skilfully woven throughout the fight are some creative devices that provide context to what you’re seeing. The match is overseen by four muses who use spoken word and beautifully choreographed movement to give you a whistle-stop breakdown of why this match was such a big deal, while the sportsmen themselves break the fourth wall to address us from the heart. The result is an unexpectedly moving, powerful and poignant piece of theatre that taps into much broader themes – at the same time as delivering sheer, heart-in-the-mouth entertainment.
“I thought this will be a matter of just a little exercise. I’ll probably knock him out in three rounds.”
– George Foreman
NOTE: Rumble in the Jungle Rematch has been extended until 9th December 2023. Tickets start at £29.50, and you can book right here.
Rumble In The Jungle Rematch | Dock X, Canada Water Retail Park, Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU
Like quirky events? See our pick of what’s on in London this month