Amajuba, Criterion Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Performed with euphoric emotional intensity, Amajuba is an unceasing theatrical appeal to the heart. Set in South Africa during the apartheid era, the narrative is composed of the real-life accounts of five actors who experienced segregation first-hand.

Performed with euphoric emotional intensity, Amajuba is an unceasing theatrical appeal to the heart. Set in South Africa during the apartheid era, the narrative is composed of the real-life accounts of five actors who experienced segregation first-hand.

The production's gospel-style delivery vibrates with the force of the actors' past suffering and hope for the future. Like lay preachers, the cast use simple language, awash with cliché and analogy, to drive home their stories, telling the audience that they "cannot move forward [with their lives] without looking back".

The stage is bare, apart from tin washing-up bowls and baths, but the ensemble fill the space emphatically. Every scene is underscored with traditional song, giving the production an uplifting and uniquely African identity. The ensemble's impressive vocal style is equalled by their physical expertise. The company brings to life every twist of the gruelling narratives, with the tin baths becoming doors, houses, tables, beds and chairs. The three men, France Conradie, Phillip Tindisa and Tshallo Chokwe are particularly strong, working seamlessly to present a parade of male characters, from angry young men to tired, browbeaten husbands.

The play culminates in a quasi-religious ceremony in which the cast "cleanse" themselves of their memories by pouring water over each other's bodies. The cast are then bathed in a golden light that shines through a cloud of dust, symbolising liberation from the darkness of their past.

Ultimately the flamboyant delivery of the performance, while impressive, does not leave space for any natural character development. In the final tale, Tshallo Chokwe superbly recreates his struggle to survive the battles he had with the police in his youth, but the audience gains no insight into his personality.

The director and creator, Yael Farber, has said that Amajuba is about "reclaiming five 'small' stories from the millions untold". But the danger of this type of reverential drama is to make heroes of victims and to put theatrical sentiment above a quest for insight.

To 28 May (0870 060 2313)

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