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Something's gone horribly wrong here between the idea of an inspirational Royal Court and Young Vic co-production project involving five young playwrights (American, British, Brazilian, Cuban and Nigerian) on a journey of Yoruba culture, and its execution.
Rufus Norris' production looks good in parts, and has some entertainingly vaudevillian effects of magic screens, dissolving landscapes (the designer is Katrina Lindsay), pelvic-thrusting and bottom-jutting dances (choreography by George Céspedas) and great costumes, with spectacular straw head-pieces.
But the show is almost impossible to follow as - and I may as well crib from the show’s publicity - "on their way to a family dinner, three sisters are divided at a crossroads."
It sounds so simple, but the writing lacks both strength and subtlety beyond reiterating, almost ad nauseam, that you have to be true to yourself, to your roots and the spirit of contentment; for the Yoruba, self-knowledge is the key to existence. Well, yes, and...?
“ The writing lacks both strength and subtlety ”
En route to the table, the women encounter various Yoruba deities, tricksters, a feline fellow in a red suit clutching a live hen, slave-drivers and preachers, traversing the centuries from 18th century slavery in West Africa and the Americas to Black Power and civil rights marches in 1960 and athletic prowess in 2012.
At three different feasts - in New York, Cuba and Brazil - the three pregnant women are now generically representative of the fight back in the diaspora, but there’s little density or continuity in the writing, which is not so much obscure as disappointingly tinny.
It may well be that the confluence of voices - those of
Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield and Gbolahan Obisesan - now needs drastic separation because, at the moment, none of them seems to be making any great point or argument.
Norris can do nothing to rectify the situation, only to disguise it. The cast is immensely likeable, and the audience, on the night I went, wonderfully diverse and, amazingly, enthusiastic. But a great opportunity (
Feast is part of last year's World Stages London) seems to have been pretty well squandered.
No fault of the fine work of the magnificently voiced
Noma Dumezweni (late of the RSC) as one of the three sisters, or of Ira Mandela Siobhan and Alexander Varona as two incredible dancing dervishes, or indeed of Daniel Cerqueira as a comedy white witch doctor called Alan; but good intentions alone are never enough. Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith - by Michael Coveney