Enjoy the Feast
Feast sets out to distil the extraordinary, 300-year history of the spread of Yoruba people and culture from west Africa to the rest of the world into 90 minutes on a London stage.
Does it succeed? Of course not. How can such a vibrant people and intricate cosmology be captured and condensed in an artificial, confined space? The slavers tried, triggering one of the world’s epic migrations, and thankfully failed. But not succeeding is not the same as failing – as Yoruba’s multi-spirit, life-affirming, paradox-filled belief system might say – and Feast is a joyous celebration.
It celebrates survival, diversity, complexity, humanity, life. The sets and stagecraft, the singing and dancing are brilliant. There’s more fun and enjoyment here than in a dozen London theatres put together. There’s content, too, but as you might expect from a show with five writers from different countries who met only once, its uneven and ill-matched.
Director Rufus Norris has been quoted as saying he didn’t want the production to become a series of vignettes, so there are common threads between the scenes in Brazil, Britain, Cuba and the US, the homes of the descendants of the three sisters who are waylaid at a west African crossroads in the opening scenes. But the threads can’t conceal the differences of tone and dialogue, or why a rarely-observed moment of the Brazilian part of the story – the angry slave-owner refusing to help the now legally free woman who suckled him – is matched by an aspect of life in Britain that is about racial attitudes in general, albeit with a Yoruba ‘know yourself and be who you are’ moral twist at the end.
Never mind. Yoruba has hundreds of Orishas under the supreme God Oludumare: this show has different voices. Your critical faculties might tell you that’s odd, but your pleasure receptors will be full on, enjoying the spectacle and the verve, while getting a glimpse of Yemoja, Oshun, Oya and Eshu the trickster, coaxing his live chicken to bring forth eggs.
Presumably, no chickens were hurt in the making of the history told in this show, but millions of Yorubas and other Africans were: they were kidnapped, killed, injured, maimed, tortured and imprisoned. The Orishas have helped the survivors cope with their ordeals and though Feast is nowhere near the whole of the story or the last word, it’s part of the triumph of survival that deserves to be celebrated.
Enjoy the Feast.
* Feast is at the Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ, until 23 February. Info: 7922 2922/ , firstname.lastname@example.org>
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