Young Vic Theatre
Review by: Christina McDougall
Published: Tuesday, 6th August 2019, 10:03am

Greeted by actors with practically the whole audience dancing on and around the stage, I am transported to a location I have never been before. A place that allows both audience and actors to become one as we are all whisked on a journey to South Africa.

Tree is a beautiful play. It screams truth and opens eyes to all that watch it.

Written and created by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba, it is like a magical treasure chest of different stories interwoven into one. Inspired by Idris Elba’s journey to SA in 2015 after the passing of his father, we get to discover the hidden gems of all these impactful stories.

Tree is a story of a young man called Kaelo (expertly played by Alfred Enoch) who is on a mission to scatter his mothers’ ashes next to his father’s grave in South Africa. Whilst both his parents were South African – their lives couldn’t be more different. His mother was white, and his father was black and although they both lived on the same land, only one was technically free.

Kaelo’s only known family member left is his white South African grandmother; Sinead Cusack, who is proud of her SA roots and will do anything to make sure she keeps her land within her bloodline. With no other choice Kaelo must stay with his grandmother in order to fulfil his journey of scattering his mother’s ashes next to his father’s grave.

But this isn’t as simple as it sounds, Kaelo has never met his father and slowly starts to discover how he died. This acts as a harsh wakeup call that sheds light onto life in South Africa at the time and how so many of his ancestors were viciously killed whilst being stripped of their lands.

Although I have never been to South Africa, as a Caribbean I understand how the pain of racial abuse and lack of freedom can cause so much hate and hurt within communities. South Africa went through the horrors of apartheid, killing so many innocent people and causing a whole race to be robbed of all their belongings and freedom. Tree beautifully unpacks this in a relatable and engaging manner.

Apartheid (meaning “apartness” or “separateness” in Afrikaans) officially became a way of life in South Africa in 1948, when the Afrikaner National Party came into power after heavily promoting the racially stratified system. More than 300 laws led to apartheid’s establishment in South Africa, including blacks being always required to carry passbooks to allow them entry into public spaces reserved for whites. The consequences of not doing so could be tragic – during the Sharpeville Massacre, nearly 70 blacks were killed and nearly 190 wounded when police opened fire on them for refusing to carry their passbooks.

Apartheid was created by the minority White Afrikaaners out of fear of losing power over South Africa – power that technically shouldn’t belong to them in the first place. By splitting up the black population, the Bantu could not form a single political unit in South Africa and wrest control from the white minority. The land blacks lived on was sold to whites at low costs. From 1961 to 1994, more than 3.5 million people were forcibly removed from their homes and deposited in the Bantustans, where they were plunged into poverty and hopelessness. – Thought Co

A theatrical experience like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Tree effectively managed to portray the complicated relationship between the black and white South Africans at the time through the story of Kaleo’s family. His story of wanting to fulfil his mother’s dying wish and learn more about his parents also touched me personally. Like Kaleo, I recently lost my mother to cancer and have often found myself longing to find myself without her. It’s a painful and lonely journey that torments your soul and causes your heart to form permanent cracks. Watching Kaelo go through a similar experience allowed me to sympathise with both Kaelo and his journey – something I am sure will resonate with many other audience members.

Tree is a beautiful play, with phenomenal choreography by Gregory Maqoma and impactful direction by Kwame Kwei-Armah. It screams truth and opens eyes to all that watch it.

Although I wish it wasn’t standing, I loved how creative it was. It was full of energy and emotions. The cast were believable and expressive. The movement was outstanding, and the set was unique. I loved how much audience involvement there was, from dancing on the stage to holding props, we all became a part of the show. All races in the audience become one as we cheer and cry over what we see before our eyes.

I would encourage everyone to go and see Tree, you will learn so much whilst gaining stronger legs – a theatrical experience like nothing I’ve ever seen.

NEED TO KNOW: Tree is at the Young Vic until 24 August 2019 | BOOK TICKETS