Mumbo Jumbo

Brett Bailey
Barbican Theatre
(2003)

On their first BITE appearance a couple of years ago, Brett Bailey's Third World Bunfight had a hit with Big Dada, their impressionistic portrait of Idi Amin.

This time around, they tell the simply story of Nicholas Tilana Gcaleke, a tribal Sangoma or witch doctor. He was ordered to travel to Britain to recover the skull of King Hintsa KaPhalo who was reputedly killed by Scottish soldiers in 1836.

Until the skull is returned, the Xhosa nation believes that its people would be dissolute. Thus we follow Tilana as he travels to Heathrow, amusingly receives phone calls from Nelson Mandela and the Queen (an old Third World Bunfight idea) then gets sent to Inverness. There he finds a skull. Whether it is that of his ancestral chief is open to question, at least according to the scientists who are against this spiritual journey anyway.

Unlike Big Dada, the plotting here is wafer thin. What is presented is a celebration of well-presented African traditional dance and song with colourful costumes and set, the latter looking like a child of Brit Art, with parents such as Michael Craig Martin, Julian Opie and for some skulls, Damien Hirst. At its best, this is exciting: too often, it seems designed for the purist.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher