Review Round-up: Mixed bag for Young Vic's Feast
The Young Vic's Feast, which celebrates Yoruba culture through story, live music and "dazzling choreography", opened last week (1 February 2013).
On their way to a family dinner, three sisters are divided at a crossroads. From Nigeria in the 1700s through Brazil, Cuba and the USA to London in 2013, the sisters survive by their spirits - spirits of courage, mischief and incredible resilience.
Directed by Rufus Norris, the show is written by five playwrights from across the world; Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield and Gbolahan Obisesan. Cast includes Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Noma Dumezweni. It runs until 23 February.
Something's gone horribly wrong here between the idea of an inspirational Royal Court and Young Vic co-production project involving five young playwrights... 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... It sounds so simple, but the writing lacks both strength and subtlety beyond reiterating, almost ad nauseam... The cast is immensely likeable, and the audience, on the night I went, wonderfully diverse and, amazingly, enthusiastic...
Feast unashamedly bills itself as an “epic” production and in many ways this adjective is not hubristic. It’s an all-out, bells-and-whistles show for the ongoing World Stages London project that aims to encompass West Africa-originating Yoruba culture and its centuries-long worldwide diaspora, initially due to the slave trade. It’s less a play and more a performance experience, in which the design, music and choreography prove far more accomplished than contributions from an eye-watering five playwrights from five different countries. There’s really only one problem: so taken up is the piece with its own admittedly impressive showmanship that it forgets to tell us very much about Yoruba culture. Director Rufus Norris whizzes us through stylish snapshots of scenes, places and times; they are all immaculately designed and choreographed (lovely work, George Céspedes) but with precious little cumulative heft... This is certainly a Feast for the senses but one that leaves you feeling strangely empty soon after.
...It offers a spectacular feast for the eye – but I would be lying if I said that it achieved a satisfying intellectual coherence... What holds the evening together is the staggering, kaleidoscopic vivacity of Rufus Norris's production, and the vitality of the performances. Videos projected on to Katrina Lindsay's mobile string curtain whisk us from continent to continent with memorable fluidity. Noma Dumezweni, Michelle Asante and Naana Agyei-Ampadu endow the three sisters with exactly the right blend of the physical and the spiritual. Ira Mandela Siobhan is sensational as the dancing trickster too... At the end, the audience went wild; and, even though I think the case for omnipresent Yoruban values is only half-proven, no one could deny the show packs a sensuous punch.
...wide-ranging, free-flowing exploration of the diaspora of the Yoruba people... Strip away the soulful song and lithe dance, the colourful costumes and magical video projections that are the chief characteristics of this show and what have you got? A handful of playlets... that barely yield more than fleeting impressions of the subject at hand. this theatrically triumphant affair rustles disparate ingredients (including a live chicken) into a consistently fascinating, hugely energising experience. The overall mood itself – of exuberant defiance and continuity in the face of deracination – is the message, and it’s aimed at the guts not the head. Yes, the show whets an appetite it doesn’t fully sate. And it can’t be said you leave immediately the wiser. But greatly the richer? No question about that at all.
"A-She!” cries the shape-shifter Orisha. The audience, warm, young and cheerful, repeats it, willing to co-operate with anyone so entertainingly multiform (the director Rufus Norris has, with a rolling screen, just transformed him again)... Playlets by five writers (for World Stages London) celebrate rather than rebuke, with music from Sola Akingbola of Jamiroquai... Brilliant. So is the London 2012 section: a girl athlete barracked for fraternising with a “pink-toe” coach. But why then, she asks, do black boys chase white girls? Bridling like a politically-correct Lady Bracknell, the lad replies: “Revenge!” Her scorn brings cheers of hilarity. And on we go, through vignettes from each continent , towards two final and excellent jokes. Generous, wise glee drums through the show like a human heart. Gotta love it.