Feast, as the title suggests, is a rich recipe, this for serving up Yoruba culture in a lavish dish of playwriting, music and dance. The Yoruba vision came from Elyse Dodgson, Head of the Royal Court’s International Department, and the production ranks as one of the Court’s most ambitious international projects to-date. With the Royal Court in partnership with the Young Vic as part of the 2012 London World Stages initiative http://worldstageslondon.com/about.php , the project brought together five writers from different parts of the world: Tanya Barfield (USA), Yunior García Aguilera (Cuba), Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria), Marcos Barbosa (Brazil) and Gbolahan Obisesan (UK/Nigeria). Each of these writers, along with translators, contributed to the scripting of an episodic journey through Yoruba culture that spans different zones of time and geography, from the 1700s to the present-day, from Nigeria to Yoruba routings through Cuba, Brazil, the USA and the UK.
Upending Aristotelian unites of time, place and action, Feast ranges epically back and forth, with three sisters (Noma Dumezweni, Michelle Asante and Naana Agyei-Ampadu) carrying the dramatic weight of the piece, showing resilience and ‘spirit’ in their several encounters with the shape-shifting male trickster (Eshu). Part of that weight means bearing the histories of black slavery, some told in unexpected ways, such as the elderly black slave in Brazil who would rather not be freed from her white, colonial master because she has nowhere else to go, no means of survival. The dramatic beat mixes with music and dance to capture the rhythms of a Yoruba belief system, making this a high energy show to see. Under Rufus Norris’ direction it manages to resist what might otherwise emerge as a kind of culturally suspect world-music-dance-fest. In this respect, the show is also admirably served by video designer Lysander Ashton, whose creative input includes documentary-styled projections containing details of those sold into slavery, or those who fought for and stood up for black rights.
Aside from coming away feeling energised by the audience’s palpable engagement with the show, I am left with a ‘feast’ of images from the ‘magically’ appearing and disappearing male tricksters (the dancing trickster puts the Chippendales to shame – see photo above) to the ‘spirited’ choreographies (arranged by George Cespedes). Oh and yes, I mustn’t forget the live chicken! Amidst these delights, a quieter moment has made a lasting impression: a young black woman with tomato sauce poured over her jacket sits on a bar stool in a South American diner during the sixties colour bar insisting on her right to be served. She attempts to persuade her more timorous, conservative sister, who would prefer to stay on the right side of respectable rather than risk jail, to join her. As the reluctant sister finally takes her seat beside the other, it is a wonderful gesture of solidarity that swells to an ensemble imaging and chorusing of black rights from the cast.
This show is all feast and no famine. The run at the Young Vic is extended for another week – deservedly so. Catch it while you can!