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The Tree (Play Review) The Tree (Play Review)
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The Tree (Play Review)

The history of White colonial land dispossession didn’t begin with the passing of the Native Land Act in 1913, it goes back to the expansion of Dutch colonial settlements in the Cape. Land and livestock dispossession resulted in wars between the local tribes and a number of other ethnic groups against the colonial settlers.

 

It is against this backdrop that Tree, the impressive new collaboration between Manchester International Festival and Young Vic about bloody history land dispossession, the new militant face of South Africa and reclaiming one’s legacy, is set.

 

Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) is making his first to trip to South Africa, to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother, to reconnect with his unknown half-sister and also to find his father’s grave.

 

Upon arrival he’s immediately becomes entangled into the complex, contentious and often violent land issues that dominates South Africa’s politics to the present day through the warnings of his surly grandmother (Sinead Cusack) and the mysterious gardener Gwkei (Patrice Naiambana)

 

Through Gweki and a series of dream scenes, he learns of his father’s brave past in fighting for African land rights as well as the horrors perpetuated by his Grandmothers ancestors and that his destiny lies in reclaiming the land of his ancestors.

 

Meanwhile  he’s at odds with his confrontational half-sister Ofentse brilliantly played by Joan Iyiola, who represents the new young militant black South Africa, who whilst acknowledging the achievements and sacrifices of their elders are seeking a more direct action and legislative approach to reclaiming their land.

 

His ultimate discovery and the plays ending ins both shocking and enchanting. Tree is an outstanding example of physical and immersive theatre at its best. It’s an astonishing mix of drama, dance and modern music that fully engages the audience in the storytelling experience. Be warned however, standing and moving around for 90 plus minutes can be a gruelling experience.

 

Alfred Enoch gives an excellent performance both through his expressions and sheer physicality he brings to the role as the initially naïve grandson who comes to understand the complicated nature of his legacy and his true destiny.

 

Ms Cusack, is equally praiseworthy as she grouchy embattled yet deluded white farmer who is torn between hanging onto her land and giving it all up so that the family name can continue.

 

The intelligent choreography by award winning Gregory Maqoma and the fluidity and grace of the dance ensemble in particular the flashback scenes was in many ways the mortar that held this compelling play together.

 

Huge commendation must go to set designer Jon Bausor. The inventive use of huge dance floor in place of a formal stage and state of the art led screens to tell aspects of story was nothing short of ingenious. Worthy of the entrance price alone.

 

Much of the play’s powerful and evocative music created Mickey J Asante and actor and producer Idris Elba was in his own words “Was a personal journey, inspired by the time I spent in the country playing Madiba in the Long Walk.”

 

Director Kwame Kwei-Armah has produced in Tree a play that not only not only profoundly emotional but through it blend of music, drama and immersiveness brings a fresh direction for theatre today.

 

Tree, Until Aug 24, The Young Vic, SE1 8LZ Tickets and details https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/tree

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