Following a run at the Manchester International Festival Tree comes to the Young Vic bringing Idris Elba to the London premiere on Thursday 1st August. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Tree is inspired by Elba’s 2014 album Mi Mandela, which he wrote in 2013 when he travelled to South Africa after the death of his father. (Image credit: Mbulelo Ndabeni and Alfred Enoch: (C) Alt A).
Through a powerful combination of music, movement and drama Tree follows Alfred Enoch’s Kaleo a young man who has black father and white mother, he leaves London to go to South Africa where he is confronted by a family history tarnished in the violence of apartheid. Naively thinking that coming to South Africa to scatter his mother’s ashes on the grave of the father he never knew was going to be “easy”. Grandmother Sinéad Cusack is the relentless landowner who refuses to see the old ways of South Africa as wrong and is too blinded to see the change coming until it is too late. Kaleo is pulled in two directions between his half-sister Ofentse (Joan Iyiola) who wants to embrace a new South Africa deciding she wants to “reclaim” the land and his grandmother.
What follows is skilfully choreographed scenes that perpetuate the violence of the time accompanied by an electronic score. This is immersive theatre, so the audience are participators from the beginning when they take part in a dance-off, Artistic Director Kwei-Armah is on the floor popping some moves while the dancers in the cast move around the floor encouraging the audience to move then throughout the show the audience are given props and to end when the audience are back on the stage dancing. Enoch does the gangling, naive Kaleo well and manages to pull off some choreographed movement scenes.
Choreographer Gregory Maqoma has professional dancers like Mbulelo Ndabeni at his disposal and it shows. The 90 minute show does not beautify the subject of apartheid, it is more a case of this is what has happened, it is not just apartheid that it deals with it deals with loss, the loss of a father which is the thread that ties both Elba and Kwei-Armah to the plot. A truly enjoyable and imaginative piece of theatre.
Cast list: Christian Bradley, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Sinéad Cusack, Alfred Enoch, Kurt Egyiawan, Anna-Kay Alicia Gayle, Joan Iyiola, Anthony Matsena dancer Daniella May, Patrice Naiambana, Mbulelo Ndabeni and Andile Sotiya.
Tree runs until 24 August at the Young Vic.