Anansi - An African Fairy Tale, Southwark Playhouse
The Wild Shrew's production of Anansi: An African Fairy Tale was a strange mix of events. The play follows the Ashanti character Anansi, that folkloric trickster, handed down through the African Oral tradition of storytelling, itself instructive and informative throughout 300 years of maltreatment, across the African Diasporas. The Shrew's production replaces Anansi the spider man with Anansi the spider woman. It is an amalgamation of the Sky God (Anansi and the Tiger) interwoven with the tale of a snake- would-be-bridegroom – not specific to any one culture, before finally introducing, The Guardian of the Pool, a Zulu tale also existing in West Africa.
That being so, we are left to sit back, relax, and enjoy the exploits of Anansi (Anniwaa Buachie) -aka- Spider Woman, and her attempts to regain the stories of the earth from the Sky God (Andy Serkis-voice over). At this point relaxed I am not, at the introductory song Anansi has to; catch the unseen fairy, catch the swarm of bees, and catch the tiger of the forest, before she can gain back the stories of the earth. All of the latter premised as an impossible task by the Sky God.
The ensemble weaves through the performance impressively at times, between the village and its surrounds interchanging roles with the agility necessary to accompany the irresistibility of the Anansi tale - survival, immersed in cunning and scheming, essential prerequisites for the tale.
We encounter Anansi (Buachie) her friend Akua (Vanessa Sampson) and Akua's mother Amma (Lynette Clarke) who is keen for her daughter to continue the ancestral line. There is also the arrival of seven such suitors (seven x Msimisi Affolderbach-Diamini) to meet mother's aspirations for her daughter; followed by the appearance in town of the most unsuitable of suitors Vipro (Toussaint Meghie) the snake man. Before we finally meet the Rock Python - Notwithstanding Anansi's own task, given her by Nyame the Sky God. Phew!
This adaptation felt like watching Hollyoaks meets Anansi, or the 'un-telling' of an African Fairy Tale. Cagnacci's, directing was ham-fisted in places, due to the juxtaposition of dialects within the performance. The Anansi Tales are the underlying assumption being we recognise the human traits/sides, the rawness of character, which makes Anansi enjoyable to children young and old. The voice of Nyame the Sky God (Andy Serkis-voice over) a la, Bill Sykes-Oliver Twist was enjoyable- believable. The audience responded warmly.
Equally so, of Lynette Clarke's (Amma/Mother and Mmoatia/Fairy,) Misimisi Affolderbach-Diamini (seven x Suitors), and Anniwaa Buachie (Old Woman) again warmly received by the audience. Illuminating the fact, that culturally appropriate dialect is what suits the character, regardless of colour, nationality, or ethnicity. A white actor could have played Anansi, with a broad Glaswegian accent, and it would have given more pleasure, in this African Fairy Tale. It would have been real, thus allowing Anansi's quick fire-trickster-personality to represent the tale. The direction did not allow Anansi's quick fire sprit to come across, resulting in Anansi: An African Fairy Tale, falling short in places, and unnecessarily so.
The actors in varying degrees gave the only performance they could, given the nature of the adaptation. Perhaps Cagnacci missed the chance to use this ensemble. There were certainly signs of these actors knowing the strength of character contained in an Anansi Tale. Toussaint Meghie (Vipro) the snake man played the latter in a Disney-esque/colonial/ Shere Khan style, befitting of his characters, skin-shedding antics- the kids loved him. In addition, Lynette Clarke (Mmoatia/Invisible Fairy) once captured used her intuition and gestures expertly, as the invisible fairy, such was her talent and sense of make believe.
One sincerely felt Clarke could perform the whole tale single handily. Watch out for Msimisi Affolderbach-Diamini in the years to come, his portrayal of the Seven Unsuitable Suitors – measured and well timed, in rapid succession, which made the audience roar with laughter. Buachie (Old Woman) filled the audience with the kind of emotional reaction that her portrayal of Anansi should have achieved, but did not. I applaud Cagnacci's direction of the Rock Python tale towards the end of the performance. The ensemble worked in unison to deliver the spectacle African folkloric tales are made of- a sense of oral history and intelligence - passing on a little of a world that is lost.
The set and costume, although seeming to do their job, one felt, perhaps a good lighting designer was needed, more props and one could easily have done away with the set altogether.
I do hope Cagnacci takes this one back to the drawing board, because there is much that is good here.
Anansi: An African Fairy Tale is at the Southwark Playhouse until January 8, 2011
Afridiziak Theatre News review: Talawa Theatre's Anansi and the Magic Mirror