Young Vic Theatre, London – until 24 August 2019
If a student disco is your personal nightmare, look away now. Tree starts and ends with a throbbing onstage party to wish the audience is persuasively invited. The last time this many Waitrose customers grooved awkwardly to African beats was on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour.
Tree is a strong and generously immersive piece that wraps around you like Jon Bausor’s woven wicker cyclorama patterned in warm African sunsets, with confident original choreography and a story which contrasts the bright hope of the ‘new dawn’ of Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election with the lengthening shadows of disillusion which followed it
Specifically, it’s about identity and entitlement as Londoner Kaelo (Alfred Enoch, smart) takes his white mum’s ashes to scatter on the grave of his black father, and must mediate between Sinéad Cusack’s fiercely embattled white settler grandma, and Joan Iyiola‘s hilarious half-sister who dresses like Nicky Minaj but campaigns like Miriam Makeba.
As directed by Kwame Kwei-Amah, it’s half play, half gig. The narrative’s broad but the script is slight, and predictable – so it’s surprising there was such controversy about its authorship, as whoever penned it has little to celebrate.
What is a celebration, though, is the music – mostly from co-creator Idris Elba’s dramatic and emotive ‘Mi Mandela’ album reworked by Michael Asante as a bass-resonant score that breaks over you in wave after wave, by turns uplifting and threatening.
Tree has grown since its launch in Manchester and may continue to develop.
For now, simply enjoy the beauty of its musical branches and ignore the shallowness of its polemical roots.
until August 24