Thursday, September 28

Under the Kundé Tree – Southwark Playhouse Borough

Important topics and neglected topics are both amongst the main raw materials that theatre brings forth to create and look at reality. In the case of Under the Kundé Tree, it is both.

This play, written by Clarisse Makundul and director Ebenezer Bamgboye, takes us back to the times of the Cameroonian independence conflicts, with an interesting emphasis on the role women had during these times. Throughout the story the audience will be following Sara, played by Selina Jones, who will be having encounters with Jean, his suitor, played by Fode Simbo; Nadia, her cousin, played by Amma-Afi Osei; and his father Pa, played by Yinka Awoni. Finally, Makundul herself plays an uncredited role.

The play starts with a short section of dance. Beautiful short choreographies will be seen the rest of the play, and the first one is the one to invite us to this world. After that, the story begins with Jones’s Selina discussing with Osei’s Nadia and later Awoni’s Pa about the possibility of getting married with an important and rich man in the village, who is not the chosen by Selina. Later, Simbo’s Jean will have a brief conversation with Pa and then we are introduced into the love conflict of the play. At the same time, independence and colonial ideas will be discussed through conversations and intermingled with these love conflict. In what could be understood as the second act, the play escalates very quickly and what seemed to be an important point in the plot goes into the background while the violence of independence conflicts becomes more relevant.

The staging of the play, with all this complex storytelling, is rather minimalistic, although some of the resources utilized on the set are overly plain. Set and costume design were made by Niall McKeever, who made some interest and complicated choices. The stage, as the audience enters it, is a round, small grass hill in the middle of the room, with some objects hanging from the ceiling. However, at moments those two choices impaired the experience of the play, since important situations were hidden by the cast being sited with their backs to one side of the room, or the objects hanging covering some of the actors’ faces, particularly that of the majestic Jones. A strange oversight that became a distraction.

At the same time, the very few objects on stage become very strong symbols, that turn into simple icons when the actors interact with them. The chairs on the four corners of the space, for example, transform into a very strong metaphor at some point, but then the metaphor is overused and thus losses some of its power.

The actors perform their characters impressively well, although the rhythm and intensity of the situations seem to become monotonous, as in a constant stream of desperation. This constant stream makes it a bit difficult to focus and understand which part of the story is the main part. Undoubtedly, everything is important, but it does not seem to be clear from what perspective is the audience going to be invited to observe these events unfold.

Providing visibility for events that are sometimes historically referred as the Hidden War of Cameroonian Independence and the role women played in those events is a great achievement of this powerful and passionate play.

Reviewer: Gonzalo Alfredo Sentana

Reviewed: 26th May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.