The roots of a Tree

Manchester International Festival

Tree

Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) is a young man, living in London, who has decided to return to his South African roots in order to stay with his white grandmother (Sinéad Cusack) so that he can scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother on his black father’s grave.

He knows little of South Africa and nothing of his father, nor even that he has a half sister who turns out to be a militant activist. His parents had become separated when his white mother fled South Africa leaving her black boyfriend, and the father of her baby, behind. That was South Africa of the 1960s where apartheid still ruled.

Soon after she had left South Africa his father was brutally murdered by the state police during a township protest over the ownership of land. The whereabouts of his grave has never been disclosed but after some inquires the precise location is identified and Kaelo is able to fulfil his wishes though not before a voyage of discovery through the politics and history of South Africa that even confronts post Mandela disillusionment and corruption. 

Staged in Manchester’s old vegetable and flower market, Tree is a lively production of music and dance as well as drama but sadly there is controversy and a back story about the authorship of the play. Although the show is officially credited to the actor Idris Elba, who does not appear in the production, and Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, this is bitterly disputed by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley who claim to have come up with the original idea and worked on it for four years with the Young Vic company before being told that the play needed a different direction.

As a consequence they have been given no credit. There are forceful ideas and emotions in this production as well as an energy but one is left with a feeling that perhaps it might have worked better had it been left in their hands with more dialogue to explore the drama and a little less in the way of staging.

S.F.Kelly

Tree runs until  July 21. Details: https://mif.co.uk/

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