Tell Them That I am Young and Beautiful
Created by the company collaborating with writer Gilles Aufray
Marcello Magni with KP Productions
This is an evening of stories and storytelling but story telling that is the very essence of theatre presented by an ensemble of charismatic performers. These have the magic quality of fairytales, even one that tells of real events that took place only four years ago in Paris. They are at the same time very moral, very moving and very entertaining, though one of them that looks at greed does stretch itself out a little too long.
They are very simply staged with on a sandy looking floor swirled with yellow ochre; the set by Sophie Jump is little more than a group of bamboo poles against a pale washed wall. They can be rearranged by the actors to suggest forest or doorway, cowshed or cage, or tipped sideways by the violence of a storm and take beautifully to Alex Wardle's lighting, as do the colourful costumes that allow the actors to slip easily from continent to continent and one character to another whether on a Metro platform or a famine-ravaged desert.
The sequence begins and ends with Japanese proverbs which are sung but the first story proper takes us into a milking shed where Marcello Magni's cattleman is surrounded by his mooing herd and he finds many more to milk than just the cast. Already enlivened by the opening number this first scene won me over totally and they keep up the same quality of involvement. David Bartholomew Soroczynski is not a beautiful young woman, but here the story says he is a beautiful bride from the stars and you have to believe it.
These are tales of faithfulness and loss, of duty, especially that of hospitality, of sacrifice, of greed and selfishness, of how in the euphoria of joy those responsible for making it possible can be tragically forgotten - that in a modern tale of organ transplant, the donor touchingly played by Patrice Naiambana.
Kathryn Hunter is the wives and mothers, archetypical folk tale characters but individually characterised, and especially very moving as a female pigeon determined that she and her mate shall do their duty, even though it means their doom, with Naiambana swooping around the stage to steal fire to warm the 'guest' beneath their tree.
With phrases such as a promise to be faithful "until all memories end" the writing is vivid without being self-consciously poetic but this is a production in which the vocal and the physical are blended seamlessly, with musician Tunde Jegende making a huge contribution to its success with his captivating music which he plays as appropriate on African kora, cello and drum.
For the final tale, the title story of someone searching to discover truth, the story is not played out by its characters: Hunter tells it, a piece of direct communication; though of course she brings to it her considerable accomplishments as an actress. I have not loved everything that I have seen her in but this is Hunter at her finest, but it is no star turn: with Magni as director this is a company of peers.
"Tell Them That I Am Young and Beautiful" runs at the Arcola Theatre until 8th October
Reviewer: Howard Loxton