“Your hair is like a water buffalo”
Though one tries to remain open-minded about most things theatrical, the word ‘multi-authored’ tends to make my heart sink. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an example of the form that really worked for me (though it is possible that I have and I have forgotten) as it takes something extremely special to harness the potential unleashed by numerous writers and to turn it into something satisfying. And with Feast at the Young Vic, the point is proven once again. Part of the World Stages London festival (although feeling like a Johnny-come-lately in that respect), Yunior García Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield and Gbolahan Obisesan have all contributed to a production that celebrates the West African Yoruban culture and traces the paths by which it has spread and developed in their respective and native USA, Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil and the UK.
The central conceit of the show is that three sisters, demi-goddesses if you will, on their way to a feast but who encounter a mischievous trickster on their way who scatters them through time and space, reflecting the diasporic spread of Yoruba. But sadly, at a dramatic level, the globe-trotting and centuries-spanning narrative doesn’t really work. The episodic structure gives little time for the scribes to make their varying points and bouncing from Nigerian folklore to the end of the Brazilian slave trade to sexual politics in Cuba to the US civil rights struggle has a curiously flat effect as none have the space to really develop. But true to its name, Feast is made up of many, many parts and director Rufus Norris brings an astoundingly vibrant energy to the production side of things with dance and music and design elevating this into a genuinely spectacular affair.
Video projections – most memorably of the intrusive detail of slave ledgers – by Lysander Ashton play out on the effective string curtain of Katrina Lindsay’s open design, making the scene changes as moving as the play itself; Sola Akingbola and Michael Henry’s arrangements of various styles of music demonstrate how influence of the music within people remained strong no matter where they ended up; and George Céspedes’ choreography is breathtakingly eye-catching – and not just with the almost-illegal charms of the snake-hipped Ira Mandela Siobhan. These all end up being as much as integral part of the show as the writing and so whilst the energy may dip as a scene plays out, it isn’t long before pulsating energy and striking imagery returns.
And it is not as if it is badly acted at all. Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Michelle Asante and Noma Dumezweni make an intriguing account of the three sisters, Dumezweni’s Cuban prostitute probably the most vivid characterisation and Asante the most vivacious performer. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is devilishly charming as the trickster who easily winds his way into the audience’s affections and Daniel Cerqueira has a small but very moving part to play in the final scene which has something of a rare eloquence to say about race. I remain sceptical about the merits of multi-authored theatre and one may end up questioning how much of a lingering impact this play will have, but the rollercoaster spectacle that is provides whilst watching it, Feast is tasty indeed.