Enchanted Land at the Riverside Studio 2, Hammersmith

An Enchanted Land makes for an entrancing evening for more reasons than one. It s a brave new play dealing with a place and a religion not normally accessible to British audiences, and certainly not on the stage. When was the last time you saw a play set in Haiti, featuring voodoo - or even an all-black cast for that matter? Playwright Dale Wasserman and producer Stephen Glover should be commended for their efforts to break new ground.

Haiti is undeniably a strange and haunted place. Steeped in bloody colonial history - which includes the only successful revolt of slaves in recorded history - the once richest colony on earth has evolved into the poorest nation in the Western world. Small wonder that natives seek comfort in their ancient African religion, even if it does sit oddly, at least in our minds, with the second national religion, Catholicism.

The clash between the two religions, the past and the present, the barbarity and gentleness in the nature of the people is potent fodder for drama. But at the heart of it all, Enchanted Land is a simple modern day love story. Sixteen-year-old Lourdes Diane Parish (best known as Beth in the BBC s Lovejoy), returning to her mother s small village home after a strict Catholic upbringing with her godmother, meets local artist Diogene (Treva Etienne of London Burning fame) and they fall in love. Unknown to Lourdes, her mother Zeline (Ganiat Kasumu) already had designs on Diogene. She seeks revenge on the young couple with a voodoo curse that succeeds in ostracising them from both the community and the Catholic church and leads to even more disastrous consequences.

On the whole, the quality of the actors performances is very high, keeping the audience titillated with exciting voodoo scenes, complete with giant voodoo doll and echoing drum music. Belinda Ackermann s set is also excellent and, combined with the intimacy of the studio, you feel as though you re actually a part of the village, embroiled in the action.

Having said that, there are noticeable lulls in said action, particularly in the first act where some scenes seem elongated, unnecessarily padded out with awkward silences. Not a good start for a two and a half-hour play! But don t be deterred, if you can make it past the interval, you re in for a spine-tingling, voodoo spectacle in the second half.

Ed Whiting, September 1997