FringeReview UK 2023
Festival: FringeReview UK
At just 45 minutes, a delightfully adapted fairy-tale, adapted in its turn. Bisola Aalbi’s rewrite is a lively, timely take on a silent culture war to make people of all ages think again.
Writer Bisola Alabi, Director Azieb Pool, Associate Director Kalungi Ssebandeke, Assistant Director/Movement Director: Elsabet Yonas, Set and Costume Designer Phyllys Egharevba, Lighting Designer Luke Goodlit, Sound designer and Composer Mwen, Assistant Director and Movement Director Elsabet Yonas, Dramaturg Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong
Till December 10th then from 13-17th at the National Youth Theatre’s Workshop Theatre, transferring to Talawa’s Croydon Studio 20-23rd December
Please note low prices: £15, £5 or what you can give.
Here’s a blast of fresh takes and second chances and you’ll never guess the villain but I’m going to tell you anyway. Bisola Alabi’s Refilwe was inspired by Zukiswa Wanner’s novel – a delightful take on the Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel.
Directed by Azieb Pool for Talawa, it’s an ideal pre-Christmas show for anyone aged seven upwards.
Alabi transposes the story from the Lesotho mountains to Tottenham. After an energetic dance (we join in by the end) we’re in the world of 12-year-old Refilwe (Aliyah Lassey). She’s had to move in with strict aunty Agnus (Christie Fewry). Refilwe’s parents are away.
Agnus is strict, her relationship with artefacts from the British Museum plain weird. What are those broken columns and other Lesotho artefacts doing here? Even more Refilwe’s constrained with Agnus’s three golden rules including one thing a day she’s grateful for.
It’s enough to make Refilwe pull at her hair. Not clever as Agnus reckons she needs it cut. On Saturday. Because she’s lost her mother’s gift: a special loc weaver to maintain her hair. Doesn’t Agnus know there’s power in that hair? Cutting will lose that power. There’s murky forces at work. What’s wrong with Aunty? Why is Refilwe not allowed to touch those artefacts? She calls on us for help. A lot.
Whilst Agnus is out, Refilwe picks up an artefact. And she’s in a portal. In the British Museum. She discovers and releases – from a sarcophagus – new friend (also 12) Tumi (Eliezer Gore) from Tottenham Academy, where she starts next week. He can’t be as popular as he imagines, no-one’s missed him. He’s a bit cowardly, but learns. Refilwe’s certain she knows what’s happening to those artefacts.
But the British Museum strikes back. It could be fatal. Then aunty turns up: she’s been taken over. Now the trio find themselves locked in after closing time “where they bust their best dance moves, speak their wittiest riddles and flip their hair while uncovering more hidden powers and magic than they ever could have imagined.”
How does Refilwe’s rescue them? Tumi from his fear, Agnus from her spell? And Refilwe from a trip to the hairdresser? If she ever gets out?
Lassey’s a force of sparky appeal and pulsating presence. She’s worth looking out for, with a gift of connection and warmth as well as flipping in and out of role with a boppy swerve and humanity that engages her audience.
Fewry’s an adamantine presence of contained warmth, modulating in strict-but-loving mode through to hallucinated and back to release. Like Lassey she projects fairtytale primary colours subtly. Gore as Tumi is appealing in a hapless manner, and shrewd: that comment on his lack of popularity is a moment where reality blinks through fairy-tale. Adolescence is fragile; like Refilwe he’s entering it.
More, this is a tale of cultural theft and reparation – think Elgin Marbles – and responds to what establishment curators ask: “Do you want to see museums half-emptied?” “Yes if people want their heritage back.” Britain has plenty of its own; it’s not always pretty. Do I believe the British Museum can consume those who fight its malign embrace? Maybe.
Director Azieb Pool keeps this moving at the right pace, with Elsabet Yonas’ movement a key component. Phyllys Egharevba’s set is ingenious and telling. There’s broken columns, one horizontal, one standing, a cabinet of curiosities, tellingly empty picture frames suspended but rising and falling; and a home corner with sofa. Those frames recall Bernadette Roberts’s set of Errollyn Wallen’s tremendous opera The Paradis Files at the Southbank last year.
Luke Goodlit’s lighting is atmospheric in an intimate space, Mwen’s music and sound is exhilarating. Keitan Adediji is also cited as performer, but wasn’t present on this occasion. Audience participation is madnaory. And there’s an A4 image of a flag distributed.
At just 45 minutes, a delightfully adapted fairy-tale, adapted in its turn. Alabi’s rewrite is also a lively, timely take on a silent culture war to make people of all ages think again.