"A serious message with a wow factor," says the promo material. White Folks tries to put a new spin on biblical stories by fusing them with today's music and dance but the results fall far short of wow.
Seven Old Testament characters find themselves in a wasteland. Where are they and why? Are they dead? Each gets the chance to recount his life and, in an attempt to modernise, the take on each character is suitably 'controversial': Moses as a German lunatic, Adam as a loin-grabbing misogynist and Noah as a teeth-kissing Jamaican. Finally, the heavenly host appears to explain their presence and try them for their sins against humanity.
Too many cooks spoil the broth and White Folks, with a whopping three directors, is proof of that. Writer and director Ray Shell's dialogue is disastrous enough to include lines such as "Noah, is that a big boat in your garden of are you just pleased to see me?" and "before my Moses was a prophet he was a real laff". Enough said.
Choreographer and director Dollie Henry's dance sequences are fantastic as are the dancers themselves but they're more suited to a Gap advert and are certainly out of place here. Finally, there's Paul Jenkins, the musical director. His score is of the pop-chart variety and enjoyable but, with the Ten Commandments as lyrics, he's fighting an uphill battle.
It seems all three directors had different ideas, and the result is a piece that lacks a coherent vision. This is accentuated by Christoper Richardson's non-design. Only the costumes seem to have been given, albeit misguided, thought, with the leads in modern-ish clothes, some of the singers in army gear and the dancers kitted out like rejects from Flashdance.
Performances are school play-esque, no doubt as a result of the stilted dialogue, but Maureen Purkiss as Sarah outdoes herself, being more wooden than her staff. There are five singers who comprise the heavenly host and perform individual solos beautifully but again don't belong here (MTV beckons).
The final insult is the trial. The characters are given an elixir to witness the modern-day sins they're deemed responsible. It's a list that's simplistic, patronising and, in its fleeting reference to 11 September, sickeningly opportunist.
- Hannah Khalil