Under the Kundè Tree
Clarisse Makundul Productions
Southwark Playhouse (the little)
Britain and France were always competing to conquer the world. It meant Britain invading some ninety percent of the globe while France grabbed what bits it could including invading England on a number of occasions.
But the pair agreed on a division of Cameroon, with France taking the North and Britain taking the South. Unfortunately for these manic imperialists, the people of Cameroon wanted to rule themselves.
Under the Kundè Tree centres on the experience of Sara (Selina Jones) in the 1950s when women were questioning the more traditional gender roles in the context of an initially non-violent nationalist movement.
Her father, played by the very fine actor Yinka Awoni, is one of those with a positive view of French rule who has been preparing the way for Sara to marry a fairly rich local man. Sara on the other hand is reading books that question the expectations of women and has fallen for Jean (Fode Simbo) who supports the liberation struggle. This prompts difficult rows with her father that include his violence towards her.
The audience watches from four sides of a performance space consisting of a hill-like circle of grass above which hang various props like branches of a tree. In each corner of this square space, there are also hanging microphones from which we would hear short speeches by, for instance, Ruben Um Nyobé (Yinka Awoni), one of the leaders of the fight for freedom.
However, France, never being slow to dispose of problem people, ruthlessly removes him from the scene.
Jean is also a target and that results in the home of Sara being raided by the police who brutally beat her before taking her to prison.
The choreography of the violence shows Sara moving in pain (enacted by the impressive movements of Selina Jones) as police physically attack her represented by a chair. The tension of these disturbing scenes contrasts with on other occasions, the incredibly beautiful singing voice of Sara’s cousin Nadia (Amma-Afi Osei).
This is a clear, engaging story performed by a strong cast about the important struggle of the Cameroonian people against their occupation by the French.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna