Tree – The Young Vic  

This show uses haunting music and evocative singing (by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante) along with physical theatre to tell a powerful story. With the Young Vic auditorium configured more or less in the round and most of the audience standing nearby, there is a sense of everyone in the room being part of the events unfolding

Kaelo (Alfred Enoch – good) is the bi-racial son of a white South African mother (Lucy Briggs-Owen – also good) who came to London when apartheid was at its height and raised the boy as a single parent. Now that his mother has died, Kaelo goes to South Africa to scatter her ashes on his unknown father’s grave and to meet, for the first time, his farm-owner grandmother (Sinéad Cusack). Inevitably he learns a lot about his parents, his grandparents and the atrocities which have studded the evolution of South Africa. There are a number of flashbacks. It’s a powerful story although the script is laboured and clunky in places.

The quality of acting is high and the characterisation mostly works well. Cusack makes the crusty, blinkered grandmother believable, although I was unconvinced by her white South African accent and her Afrikaans speaking.

Gregory Maqoma’s choreography presents a group of dancers representing South African ancestors moving with balletic passion and creating compelling exotic shapes. The set (by Jon Bausor) includes a huge circular ring – like a giant lampshade high above the playing space – on to the inside of which images and shapes are projected. And there’s a very dramatic and beautiful development at the end.

The piece begins and ends with a party – a deafeningly, bone shakingly loud South African all shouting, all dancing immersive gig. For me this added nothing, but most audience members seemed to be enjoying it.