THEATRE REVIEW: Tree ★★★★★
Young Vic, London
Tuesday 29th July - Saturday 24th August 2019
When Idris Elba, co-creator of Tree alongside Kwame Wei-Armah, lost his father in 2013, he travelled to South Africa with the idea to create an album in tribute to his father, entitled ‘mi Mandela’. Elba’s painful and personal journey for himself directly mirrors how Kaelo, portrayed with such angst and emotion from Alfred Enoch, feels at the start of Tree, having lost his mother just recent and so decides to travel from London to South Africa to try and uncover his families past and reconnect with his grandmother, with a captivating performance by Sinéad Cusack.
The use of music completely surrounds and embodies this production at the heart; instantly before you step into the large space which has been transformed into what can only be described as a mix of a rave and nightclub, we as the audience are allowing the music to blare and seep into our bones, with the audience invited on stage to dance away, something which becomes repetitive during the production. As the lower level of the auditorium has been stripped for this production to only allow standing audience, we found ourselves at the heart of the story, being used as bodies to create features, of things such as a tree, the sun and moon, as well as protesters in certain scenes. It’s unlike anything I have bared witness to in my lifetime of theatre, and the bold vision from the creative team most certainly pays off without a hitch.
Tree is essentially a full-rounded ensemble piece, with every single member of the company, even including the theatre ushers, bringing the energy and commitment to the production which must be so unique to every performance. The story sees us travel to South Africa and imagine such beautiful sights through the use of video design from Duncan Mclean, with a fiery orange and amber sparks coming to mind to create landscapes above our heads. On top of this, Wei-Armah’s direction allows us an audience to get up close and personal with the cast as they move around us, sometimes with direct speech; a moment which involved Kaelo travelling to a lake was a particular highlight. Jon Clark and Paul Arditti work immensely well hand-in-hand when mixing together the Lighting and Sound design which transports you to another world almost and completely sweeps you away from the theatrical moment and into an intimate and personal world for our protagonist. Jon Bausor's set and costume design further pushes you away from the world we are so used to and creates an authentic and vibrant setting, just like the streets of South Africa.
Overall, Tree is a powerful, vivid and candid take on losing such a close member and going out to find yourself and the past, even if it may haunt you. The Young Vic team have produced a production in which astounds us as an audience, and keeps us on our feet (quite literally) until the very last moment, which will be an image forever embedded into our brains for those who are lucky to witness this incredible piece of theatre!