From my first steps into the auditorium I realised quickly that this wasn’t going to be your usual night at the theatre. There would be no taking my seat, flicking through the programme or deciding which flavour ice cream to have during the interval. Instead as I entered I was greeted with a crowded stage of dancing bodies – including those of artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and male lead Alfred Enoch – that was made up of actors, dancers and audience members alike, writes Rosie O’Connell
Though it isFamily Tree Courts Controversy worth noting the plagiarism scandal that the show has been engulfed in, I feel this cannot be used as a means to review a complete performance. Billed as co-creators, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba have refuted Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley’s authorship allegations and while both are thanked in Elba’s programme note, neither received a credit for the final production.
Tree tells the story of young mixed-race Londoner Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) born to South African parents during the apartheid. After the recent death of his mother, Kaelo makes the journey to scatter her ashes in South Africa where his stern Afrikaans Grandmother, Elzebe (Sinead Cusack) wants nothing more than to keep her land in the family. Kaelo has a lot to learn about the racial tensions, politics and history that shape his own identity and tell his parents’ story.
The plot may be a little on the thin side, but the piece represents much more than one person’s story – the entire evening, in fact, feels collaborative. Kwei–Armah’s direction enables the audience to become a cog in the narration, whether it be holding up a placard, dancing on the stage or playing a government official. Enoch and Cusack deliver strong and solid performances throughout and the ensemble are polished, flawless and constantly moving.
There is such a palpable energy to this show through its incorporation of drama, dance and music. Musical interludes from Idris Elba’s mi Mandela album are accompanied by emotive, expressive choreography from South African dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma, and Jon Clark’s simple, woven set becomes illuminated by Duncan McLean’s clever projections, all to culminate in an engaging, fresh way of story telling.
In its modest 90 minute runtime, Tree manages to convey the joy and grief, not only of individual characters but of a nation, articulately navigating issues of personal identity and privilege. This show starts with a party and ends with a party that brings an irresistible, electric energy that is also bold enough to open a serious discussion within itself.
Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ until 24th August. Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm. Admission: £35. Phone: 020 7922 2922
Photos: Marc Brenner