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Feast

Published 4 February 2013

Surely one of London’s hippest theatres, the Young Vic is thriving on the back of ambition, dynamism and risk-taking.

Last month it won Critics’ Circle awards for a modern take on Chekhov, a reinvention of one of Ibsen’s most famous heroines and the staging of an ‘unstageable’ novel.

It opens 2013 with another epic show of global ambition.

Staged in a co-production with the Royal Court as part of World Stages London, Feast tracks the growth, spread and change in Yoruba culture, from its West African home through the slave trade to Brazil, Cuba, the US and the UK, across oceans and through centuries.

If it sounds a little like a humanities lesson, well, maybe that’s not too far wide of the multi-sensory mark.

The story is a loose one, opening up gateways and possibilities for cultural exploration rather than character development or a rich narrative arc.

Three sisters refuse food to an old man who is passing the time with his chicken at a crossroads. Given that he is dressed all in red with a wicked glint in his eye, this seems a mistake as silly as repeating ‘Candyman’ while gazing into a mirror. It turns out the crimson one is the Yoruba deity Esu, the trickster, and by way of punishment he scatters the siblings through space and time, hence the trip around cultures.

Written by five playwrights – Yunior García Aguilera (Cuba), Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria), Marcos Barbosa (Brazil), Tanya Barfield (USA) and Gbolahan Obisesan (UK) – Feast provides an authentic voice for each region and evolution, but suffers the same issues of inconsistency that all multi-authored pieces tend to; some sections clearly outshine others, some stories feel barely told, the others over-egged.

Though narrative is not its strongest point, director Rufus Norris ensures Feast provides a banquet for the senses. Mesmerising dance, from tribal to modern, samba to breakdance, is as integral to the storytelling as text, George Céspedes’ choreography setting tone and aiding transition. The onstage band, switching from mournful slave laments to hip-notising South American rhythms, ease the action along, while Katrina Lindsay’s design, which includes corn-headed tribes people and a human dressing table, is inventive and engaging.

Former Olivier Award winner Noma Dumezweni brings weight and subtlety to the character of Yemaya, the oldest sister, the same but different in every situation, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is irresistible as the trickster and eminently enjoyable when he, like the rest of the cast, takes on multiple roles throughout the show.

A word of warning, though. Eat before you Feast. When the show reaches its denouement of family gatherings around the world, it may have been my imagination, but I’m sure the aroma of South American supper wafted temptingly through the auditorium. No-one wants to hear the rumblings of a jealous stomach drowning out Feast’s remarkable musicians.

 

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