The Tricycle theatre’s association with South African theatre-making is long-held, so it is appropriate that the Kilburn venue should present the UK premiere of Lara Foot Newton’s award-winning play Karoo Moose.
This vibrant, mythic play opens with a highly charged dance, symbolising the wild spirit of a moose whose appearance in a small village in the Karoo, South Africa, has caused curiosity, awe and swagger in the local people.
But this is not a play about a moose, which merely symbolises the brutal coming-of-age of Thozama, the 15-year-old girl at the heart of Foot Newton’s tale. This young girl, who lives with her grandmother and drunken father in the village, receives a horrific introduction to adult life when her father agrees to give her virginity to two local men to whom he owes money. The scene may be symbolically staged, but Thozama’s humiliation is no less evident for it; the men treating her with a disdain that changes her physically and hardens her mentally. As the repercussions from this event play out, the strength of Thozama’s spirit is mirrored by that of the wild moose, which becomes the outlet for her anger and formidable courage.
It is a forceful tale and yet a sense of joviality overlays the story. The cast play multiple characters, sometimes to humorous effect; rousing African song and dance pervades the action; and the highly symbolic nature of the staging sometimes garners laughs from the audience, in one instance when Thozama gives birth to the product of her rape. The outcome of this jovial tone is to bring a sense of optimism to Thozama’s tale as she moves from innocent child to strong, commanding woman who will overcome everything that is thrown at her. The scene in which she takes control of her future, by overpowering the moose and her attacker, is a powerful one.
Half-narrated direct to the audience, and performed with simple props which demand an imagination to bring them fully to life, Karoo Moose has the feel of traditional storytelling, of a myth being related to demonstrate the strength of the human spirit.