Marc Brenner

Idris Elba’s album mi Mandela features in this production, now playing at the Young Vic Theatre in London.

Leaving an audience standing for 90 minutes is a tough ask, but when the material is an emotive, thrilling and frankly darn-right funky as this, time means nothing.

Kaelo’s (Alfred Enoch) journey follows him from his home in London to South Africa following the death of his mother. When staying with his grandmother – who is unaware of her daughter’s death – the history and difficulties of life in South Africa are presented to Kaelo and a journey to understand his family’s complicated past begins.

Ripping up the rulebook when it comes to traditional theatre, Tree dares to push the boundaries of what is possible from a live experience. Thumping music and an audience dancing on a central island with the cast opens. Moving into an immersive experience that includes great laughter and piercing heartache, Tree is immediately heading a whole new direction that we grew to love and love even more as the show progresses. And for those not quite feeling the groove, seat options are available beforehand.

Young Vic genius Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction is punchy and powerful, allowing physical movement to progress this story where words could so easily fail. Blended almost into chapters, which each scene acting like the turn of a page, Gregory Maqoma’s choreography uses the body and its possibilities to emote well – complimenting Elba’s music oh so perfectly.

While the previously adored level of participation is occasionally distracting with movement in the audience because of crew preparing for a new moment or scene, the heightened level of participation – including audience members holding signs, walking through the audience during spoken scenes, and even a walk-on part for one ticket-paying member – stumbles your attention. Perhaps here, less might almost be more. But did we love holding our own sign and joining in this story in our own unique way? Hell yeah!

While a loud and expressive production, this story – presented by a superb ensemble of performers – is important. It’s loud and extrovert, but its closing five minutes are heartbreaking. And if the story doesn’t get you going and jumping for joy, the finale after curtain call will. Tree breaks the rules – we’re totally here for it!

GAY TIMES gives Tree – ★★★★☆

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