Feast, Young Vic, London
There was always the risk that Feast would
turn into a glorified dog's dinner - but production avoids that with verve
Monday 04 February 2013
The injunction to be unafraid to embrace the chaos of life is one of fortifying principles of Yoruban culture.
It's a philosophy that director Rufus Norris and his team seem to have taken to heart in a big way in the devising of Feast, a bold and exhilarating show in which five playwrights from as many countries tell the story of the diaspora of the Yoruba people through a miraculous melding of music (everything from a fusion of spirituals and Catholic hymns to salsa and soul), joyously sinuous, metamorphic dance (choreographed by George Cespedes) and Lysander Ashton's ravishingly fluid and eloquent video projections (which at one point swarm with original slave-trade documents)
Multi-authored works have not exactly been flavour of the decade (Greenland, anyone?) so, despite the fact that a diversity of perspectives is integral to the piece, there was always the risk that Feast would turn into a glorified dog's dinner. It has to be admitted that, examined individually, the actual playlets feel a little undercooked and skimpy in this co-production between the Young Vic and the Royal Court. But the canny overall structure and the versatile verve of the 13-strong cast help bind the ingredients into a singular vision of creative persistence and resilient adaptation to change.
The proceedings begin in Nigeria in 1713 when the journey to a feast of three sisters, who are part-human, part-”Orisha” (Yoruban deity) is interrupted at a cross-roads by Atlantic slave traders. The trio resurface loosely in the subsequent centuries, along with the figure of Eshu, the cockily sexy orisha of trickery and chaos whose proneness to accident brings a characteristically irreverent mood to the supervising spirit-world. Norris keeps wondrous control of tone as the piece shifts to Brazil in 1888 and the mixed blessings of emanicipation for an old slave woman given the boot by the owner she once suckled, then to a 1960s Civil Rights sit-in, then to Cuba in 2008 where a self-professed “anti-imperialist whore” finds her American client taking a strange interest in her tatue of San Lazaro.
After a post-Olympics episode in which a young athlete in London is accused by her peers of selling out to a white trainer, the piece ends in a flurry of feasts throughout the diaspora. There's a wonderfully surprising, funny and moving twist to the London one. It suggests that ethnicity is no bar to espousing the defiant positiveness of the Yoruban spirit, which Feast chooses to embody rather than analyse.
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