By Andrews, Beverly
New African , No. 531
FEAST A MUSICAL DRAMA, APTLY opens with the appearance of Esu, one of the most powerful Yoruba gods. He is known in Yoruba culture as the trickster or shape shifter. He is the Orisha of the crossroads or thresholds, of chaos and fertility. The god of both right and wrong, of love and anger, of reverence and irreverence, all these operate within him. One must appease him by making offerings in order to gain access to the other deities or before embarking on any journey. He is the divine middleman and a harsh teacher leading mortals to temptation or disorder, in order to then lead them closer to wisdom.
Through him the audience is allowed to enter his world, where we are then taken on a breathtaking journey which takes us from Africa's coastal shores to South America's cruel plantations; from America's 60s segregated deep south on to a financially impoverished but still defiant Cuba; and then, finally, on to London's Olympic stadium as British descendants of African migrants collect gold medals.
Feast has so many arresting moments it's hard to pick just a few but the Cuban section is particularly poignant as we witness a clever and at times hilarious encounter between a shrewd but patriotic Cuban prostitute and a desperate American businessman. The writer of this piece cleverly turns the tables on our expectations since the businessman is not at all interested in procuring sex but, rather, is desperate for psychic advice, which he is convinced the woman can give him about future financial investments. Although the woman honestly tells him that she has no psychic abilities he nevertheless takes a casual remark she makes as a clue to what his future financial investments should be, and leaves happy. The piece cleverly suggests that it is not only those of Yoruba descent who turn to the gods for comfort, but perhaps in these financially turbulent times, even insecure Westerners are now seeking their guidance.
This play came out of an international writing programme organised several years ago by London's renowned Royal Court Theatre. Elyse Dodgson, the programme's director, remarks "the Royal Court International Department was running a play-writing workshop with a group of young Nigerian writers and we were celebrating the end of the programme. Looking out at the sea we spoke about our next Royal Court workshop in Cuba. There was great excitement and curiosity about the links that many Nigerians have to Cuban Santeria, the Yoruba belief system still practised widely in Cuba today.
Four months later in Havana, writers were equally curious about the Nigerians. "Please bring us some soil from Nigeria!" they cried. There were also writers based in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and they were not going to be left out. Their belief system, Candomible, also has Yoruba roots and they were equally interested in exploring the similarities. When the Royal Court was asked to propose a project for World Stages London, the curiosity of the writers became an idea for a play.
Then Rufus Norris, came on board. …