Young Vic’s newest play Feast, the latest addition to World Stages London’s repertoire, celebrates the growing diversity of London and the fusion of cultures we have all come to encounter over the years.
With World Stages London being a collaboration between 8 leading London theatres and 12 UK/international co-producers it was inevitable that Feast would be nothing short of an actual feast. Directed by Rufus Norris and containing five writers, who live in four continents, and a cast of 13, the plays originality was already established. With each of the five writers being responsible for the segment set in their country; American Tanya Barfield, Cuban Yunior García Aguilera, Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde, Brazilian Marcos Barbosa, and Obisesan, who moved to the UK from Nigeria in 1990, when he was nine, the play was always set to be an accurate and authentic depiction of Yoruban culture, that is so often regarded as simply Nigerian.
The play spans over 300 decades and follows the journey Yoruban culture has endured, transgressing all notions of space and time to still prevail as an influential belief system today. Feast focuses around four figures from Yoruba cosmology: Yemoja, the mother goddess; Oshun, goddess of love; Oya, the spirit of change; and Eshu, the trickster, who through his divine intelligence causes mayhem, ironically foreseeing both the slave trade and famine that Africa would soon be plighted with. Defying changing cultures and values, these fundamental characters are embodied in everything from lost sisters in the slave trade, civil-rights protesters in 1960’S America and even athletes in our modern day London. The one thing they all have in common – they’re all battling with the notion of what it means to be of Black descent.
The play posed a refreshing change regarding the recent influx of films tackling the slave trade and black people’s rights, such as Tarantino’s, Django Unchained and Spielberg’s Lincoln. Although it did still portray the oppression and struggle black people faced from the 1700’s until even now, Feast chose instead to focus on the determination and sense of hope inherited through Yoruban culture. Feast demonstrated the everyday struggle faced by black people in America, Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil and even London. Poverty, segregation and familial acceptance were just some of the many issues grappled with, all linking back to the imperative question; what it means to be Black?
Feast challenges the attitudes of many young black people today, who segregate themselves through their own classification of being different from other races. As the female athlete in modern day London declared when under attack for associating herself with her white coach, all that needs to be enforced is a sense of self-worth. Met with nods of agreement in the audience, the play encouraged the knowledge of ‘Onri’, our inner self and highlighted the importance of ancestry in the black community.
All in all the play was not only uplifting, ending in the union of black and white culture through literal feasts in modern day New York, London and Brazil, but educational. Through captivating visuals, soulful musicality and the undeniable vibrancy of African and South American dance, we are taught of the universal power Yoruban culture bears in all our lives, whatever race we may be.
Showing until 23 February 2013 at the Young Vic, London