Tree Has The (Malcolm) X-Factor

Tree, Young Vic ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 40 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Tree Has The (Malcolm) X-Factor Tree, Young Vic 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

If a student disco is your personal nightmare, look away now.

Tree starts and ends with a throbbing onstage party to which the audience is 'persuasively invited'. The last time this many Waitrose customers grooved awkwardly to African beats was on Paul Simon's Graceland tour.

Tree is a strong and generously immersive piece that wraps around you like Jon Bausor's woven wicker cyclorama patterned in warm African sunsets. It has confident original choreography and a story which contrasts the bright hope of the 'new dawn' of Nelson Mandela's 1994 election, with the lengthening shadows of disillusion that followed it

Specifically, it's about identity and entitlement, as Londoner Kaelo (Alfred Enoch, smart) takes his white mum's ashes to scatter on the grave of his black father. He must mediate between Sinéad Cusack's fiercely embattled white settler grandma, and Joan Iyiola's hilarious half-sister who dresses like Nicky Minaj but campaigns like Miriam Makeba.

As directed by Kwame Kwei-Amah, it's half play, half 'Joburg's Got Talent'. The narrative's broad but the script is slight, and predictable — so it's surprising there was such controversy about its authorship, as whoever penned it has little to celebrate.

What is a celebration, though, is the staging and the music — mostly from co-creator Idris Elba's dramatic and emotive 'Mi Mandela' album reworked by Michael Asante as a bass-resonant score that breaks over you in wave after wave, by turns uplifting and threatening.

Tree has flourished since its launch in Manchester and may continue to develop. For now, simply enjoy the beauty of its musical branches and ignore the shallowness of its polemical roots.

TREE, Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 8LZ, from £10. Until 24 August

Last Updated 05 August 2019