An early announcement about this year’s seasonal show at the Young Vic outlined a story in which twin boys create an enchanted tree in a rainforest which later exerts its magical spell over a troupe of dancers. Something has gone wrong along the way, and what we now have amounts to a something completely different and totally disappointing.
Amazonia is a limp and confusing parable about the death and resurrection of a black bull in a Brazilian village where a pregnant woman (Golda Rosheuvel) vomits on the stage – welcome to the Christmas season, kiddies – and develops an insatiable hunger first for exotic fruit, then snake’s eggs and finally the tongue of the poor old bull himself.
At the same time, the nephew (Chris New) of the village elder (Jeffery Kissoon) has returned from university with ideas of modernising the community and cutting down the trees. His cousin (Daisy Lewis) dreams of romance, and her call to the wild results in a little touch of Cirque du Soleil in the moonlight as a gymnast descends from the sky on silk ropes and a forest hunk – played by the lithely exotic Diogo Sales, who doubles as the bull in a body stocking – springs out of the deep lagoon.
Paul Heritage’s green and suspiciously worthy production has its carrot cake and eats it: the decimation of the rainforests is lamented in a directly quoted political speech by the heroic activist among the rubber trees, Chico Mendes, then ignored in a native finale of swirling costumes and a wedding dance. There is no consistency of style or aesthetic whatsoever.
This is surprising given that the Young Vic is run by a former anthropologist, David Lan, who knows all about these issues. The stage has been transformed into an enticing arrangement of promontories dominated by a huge wooden tree that is used only once, when the pregnant woman’s husband, played by the indomitable Simon Trinder, has to clamber perilously along one of its planks in search of what looks like a large cloth pomegranate. Even the comestibles are hopelessly inauthentic.
The show loses its nerve in some feeble pantomime sequences that make you long for the real thing, and the music of a Brazilian trio in red neck ties who run out of steam long before we run out of patience. This is not, alas, one of the Young Vic’s best seasonal shows, a blot on a fine tradition.