The Story

Mbali - The Story

Mbali was written by Clive Essame and Judith Maitland and 50% of the royalties will be donated to Place2be – a UK charity providing mental health support to children. It is a play that will entertain and educate adults and children about mental ill health, its importance and some of the paths to recovery.

Mbali can also be used to educate about Africa and issues such as habitat loss, poaching and the impact humans have on the world.

Mbali starts with the dramatic attack by poachers on a family of elephants. Mbali, a female elephant on the cusp of adulthood only survives by being away at the river. Having lost her mother, who is her guide, mentor and source of all knowledge Mbali is lost. She sinks into a deep depression, losing her will to live. She wanders the African grasslands, looking for water, and food when she can be bothered to eat.

She is haunted at night by demons in the shape of lions, she encounters other animals such as monkeys and a hippo in her travels who all help move the story on and bring messages to the audience. She only begins her slow road to recovery when she meets Tsande the Oxpecker who acts as her counselor in return for being given access to all the ticks on her hide. Tsande is a key character in the story as he helps Mbali see that recovery is very much down to her inner strength and determination, alongside appropriate help from others.

Mbali looks for other elephants to take care of her, but initially only finds a big bull elephant who is only after one thing before he leaves her alone again. Eventually, many seasons later, Mbali finds a herd which is happy to welcome her. She produces a calf as a result of meeting the bull and now has something to love and care for. Her demons and worries still revisit her from time to time, but her life settles into something that she can get enjoyment and peace from.


Mbali shows that mental ill-health is a serious, real illness that can be life threatening, but that there are potential positive outcomes.  There is humour, sadness and drama in the play, which also raises issues of discrimination.  Mental ill-health is an important and relevant issue for young people today and the arts offer an excellent way to explore its challenges and realities. It shows that people who experience depression are not ‘mad’, but ill and that mental ill health can come about for diverse reasons. It also shows that some ‘help’ is actually unhelpful but talking to someone can be an important step on the road to recovery. It encourages young people of all ages to think about resilience, to learn how to deal with failure, criticism and when facing adversity.

By using specific wild animals as our characters we can tell a hard hitting story in a very accessible way. We relate to animals in a very open way, and we have used the characteristics that we see in some animals to tell our tale. Elephants are very intelligent and show emotions in a way that we can easily relate to; their mutually beneficial relationship with oxpeckers reflects a client/counselor relationship well.

Clive will visit your school in Devon, South Somerset or West Dorset and run workshops and story time sessions based on the play. He can help kick start a rehearsal process if you wish to perform Mbali.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the Mbali Script and its performing license, please visit our dedicated page.