Alfred Enoch leads us on a disorientating exploration of identity in this immersive, audiovisual experience – ★★★
Tree is a free-flowing blend of elegance and discotheque. Elba’s 2014 album mi Mandela provides inspiration for Michael Asante’s composition – a lively, rhythmical backdrop for London chap Kaelo’s journey to South Africa, matched perfectly with Armah and Gregory Maqoma’s direction and choreography respectively.
It is, however, the script – the authorship of which has come with some controversy – which struggles to make an impact, feeling somewhat under-developed.
A length of 90 minutes is too short for an in-depth look into the issues of property, culture and ancestry. It is not immediately clear how Christian Bradley’s characters relate to Kaelo, whose discovery about his roots – whilst planning to scatter his mother’s ashes – happens predominantly through spiritual, dreamy expositions as opposed to real-life revelations. How Kaelo comes to actually learn about his father, other than by watching on as he is suspended above the stage, is unknown.
Yet the cast of Tree do their best with the writing. Sinéad Cusack (King Lear) gives a strong performance as Kaelo’s grandmother Elzebe, who’s caught up in a land dispute. Meanwhile farmer Gweki (Patrice Naiambana) does well with the piece’s basic comedy, the initial bonding session between his character and Enoch’s over digging offering some light humour in the production. Elsewhere, Enoch excels with the choreography and physical demands of the role, with several dream sequences proving themselves to be intricate examples of physical theatre.
It’s arguably the aesthetics of Tree which make the play particularly remarkable. Audience members walk straight into a crammed nightclub to begin with, and later become part of the African surroundings which revolve around the lead characters. It’s a show worth seeing for the spectacle, but those seeking a strong narrative may leave disappointed.
Tree is now playing at the Young Vic until 24 August.