Review: The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It, LIFT 2024

LIFT 2024 opens with the stark brilliance of The Land  Acknowledgement or As You Like It, Shakespeare like you haven’t seen before at the Southbank Centre

“Seeing Shakespeare is like taking MDMA”

Shakespeare loved himself a prologue. So when Cliff Cardinal makes his way through the stage curtain to stand before us at the start of The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It, it feels only right. As a person of Cree and Lakota heritage, he wants to let us know about the cultural phenomenon that is a land acknowledgement, something now prevalent in contemporary Canadian culture as a statement made at the beginning of public events to recognise that the land it is taking place on was stolen from indigenous people. Cardinal also then points out that there’s no talk of giving it back.

As soon as that sense of provocation kicks in, you see why The Land Acknowledgement… was chosen as one of the opening shows for LIFT 2024 – London’s International Festival of Theatre. Offering up an uncompromising viewpoint, one rarely heard in the UK if we’re frank, Cardinal’s use of Shakespeare here is a canny one indeed. In his hoodie and funky glasses, he’s got our attention fully and as he delves into some light audience participation – something else not unfamiliar to many a Shakespearean production – more becomes clear about what Cardinal is so eloquently doing.

Asking for the receipts from people who claim they’ve engaged with indigenous culture, probing into people’s personal experiences with well-meaning white folk, calling out those who seek the validation of being an ‘ally’, we’re a little way away from Rosalind and Ganymede. But again, in the space of this “radical retelling”, there’s a ferocious intensity that insists we engage substantively with this opening concept of the land acknowledgement, asking whether it can ever be meaningful or if it is just a hollow gesture from a colonial power that just won’t let go.

As Shakespeare explores identity through its deconstruction of gender norms arguing for recognising greater complexity in us all, so too does Cardinal delve into the difficulties in conceiving of indigenous peoples as a monolith, broaching some painful truths as he follows a similar path arguing against reductiveness just because it is easy. The whole experience might well be not what you’re expecting but it is all the more powerful for it – the truth is hiding in plain sight whether the land is the Forest of Arden or Saskatchewan.

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