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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Iyiola’

Th creative components of this piece are formidable, and in many respects new to theatre. Based on an obscure 4000-year-old Egyptian story, never (?) or at least rarely dramatised, adapted by Ben Okri, better known as a novelist, designed by Sir David Adjaye, an architect making his first foray into theatre. The staging, though, is in the safe hands of Young Vic AD Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Adjaye’s design for this in-the-round production is a pyramid that unfolds to become a star shaped floor. A bigger inverted pyramid hangs above it, touching it, onto which there are superb projections by Duncan McLean. Lighting by Jackie Shemesh, music by Tunde Jegede & sound by XANA complete the beautiful look and sound of the piece.

At the beginning, the actors play a game to determine who takes the part of protagonist Sinuhe, on a journey through Lybia, Egypt and Syria. Our Sinuhe was Joan Iyiola who, with Ashley Zhangazha, plays 99 other parts, all of which they have to learn, given the decision point at the outset. It took a short while to get into the story, but then it seemed to zip along.

It’s a great tale, well told, and I loved the design aesthetic, but I wasn’t fully satisfied at the end, perhaps because it was a bit insubstantial for a full evening, perhaps because at almost £1 a minute I felt short-changed, or maybe a bit of both. That said, it’s something new, something different, and you can’t really argue that the inputs aren’t expertly crafted.

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Before it even opened at the Manchester International Festival, this show was mired in an authorship dispute, which sadly got more coverage than the work itself; a great shame given the originality and quality of Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s creation. It’s a brilliant cocktail of drama, dance and music which successfully interweaves a personal story with the 20th Century history of the nation of South Africa..

Kaelo is the son of white South African woman Cezanne and black South African man Lundi, a worker on her family’s estate. Given the laws of South Africa at that time, she relocated to London, without Lundi, and brought up Kaelo on her own. As the story begins, we learn that she has recently died and Kaelo is planning to visit South African for the first time to find his father and scatter his mother’s ashes, staying with his grandmother Elzebe, but whilst there he also meets his half-sister Ofentse and learns a lot about the historical events that shaped everyone’s lives.

It’s played on a round stepped platform that revolves, stepped viewing areas replacing seats and a huge drum overhead with projections on the inside. As you arrive, the audience are on the stage dancing to a live DJ set, but leave it as the story begins. There is much dance and movement by the performers in what is a thrilling telling of this family’s story as well as its political and social context and a spiritual dimension which enables Kaelo to observe events he was nowhere near in time or location. In what is a very immersive production, the audience are involved, moving props, dancing and participating like extras, some even getting lines.

The seemingly omnipresent Jon Bausor has created another extraordinary environment incorporating sound and projections. Alfred Enoch as Kaelo performs with great passion and physicality, aided by dancers superbly choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. Joan Iyiola’s Ofentse is a force of nature, filling and commanding the stage. Kurt Egyiawan and Lucy Briggs-Owen bring Kaeola’s deceased parents alive, and Sinead Cusak is totally plausible as Elzebe, the Afrikaner grandmother who feels threatened by all around her.

I thought it was a highly inventive show which paired storytelling with actual history, informative and entertaining in equal measure, accessible to anyone used to or new to theatre, especially a young audience.

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