'Feast' is part of 'World Stages London', a collaboration between eight London theatres and 12 international and UK producers that celebrates the cosmopolitan diversity of London. In 'Feast', the focus is on the influence of a group of people from West Africa, the Yoruba, whose belief system has spread (largely as a result of the atlantic slave trade) far beyond its native shores to places as diverse as the United States, Cuba, Brazil, and the UK. The Yoruba's religion is based on one god called Oludumare and 400 Orishas who act as guides to humans. Each of these guides have their own spheres of influence, for example motherhood, beauty, love and so on.
The script is a collaboration between 5 main writers - Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield and Gbolahan Obisesan – who were brought together by the Royal Court to explore the way in which Yoruba culture has affected their lives. Other writers were also involved in early workshops, so the resulting show is a real amalgam of thoughts, ideas and concepts from several different countries and minds. And this is reflected in the end result, truly international even if the main thread which drives the piece started off in Africa.
At the beginning of the show we are introduced to the main ideas of Yoruba beliefs and then we follow a 300 year journey of three sisters, and in the process we witness a number of vignettes which include the horrors of the slave trade, the effects of its abolition and civil rights protests in the USA. We also meet a prostitute in Cuba who is called upon to forecast the future for an anxious client, and a street row in London about the relationship between a black athlete and her white coach.
The eclectic nature of the piece is mirrored in both the dance and the music. George Céspedes's brilliant choreography really feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the kind of dancing we normally experience in West End shows. And the excellent music (under the direction by Michael Henry) is not only played by a very fine band of musicians, but stretches across genres including African music, jazz and gospel; and the singing is wonderfully powerful and evocative. On top of all of that, there are some impressive and complex projections which augment the storyline, for example, adding statistics about the slave trade in a creative and digestible format.
The message 'Feast' leaves us to ponder might be a little too simplistic and somewhat naive, given the complexities and difficulties of everyday modern living. But its intention is nonetheless sincere and is based on the Yoruba idea of 'Ori' which means 'inner head' - the idea being that one should know oneself in order to have a balanced and fulfilling life.
Right at the end of the show lurks one of the best jokes I have heard in recent years, particularly in the context in which it is used. Anyone who has suffered from spam emails will readily appreciate it, but this is far more than a show with a great joke as a finale. It is a polished, vibrant production which is creatively infectious and hugely entertaining.