Posts Tagged ‘Death & The King’s Horsmen’

Well, I’ve been to the Olivier Theatre many times over the last 30 years, but it’s never felt like this. Designer Marina Draghici has done a great job bringing to it the essence of Fela’s Nigerian nightclub with giant banners & projections, corrugated iron and above all colour. You could hear the sound of the extraordinary band before you entered the theatre and when you did, the stage was full of dancers.

Fela’s story is a fascinating one, but its told here as a biographical monologue inside an afrobeat concert. There is really only one character, and that’s the crux of the problem with the show. You learn more about Fela’s life reading the programme and the show just adds the music and dancing – wonderful music and dancing (though in truth it does become a bit monotonous), but music and dancing alone don’t make a fully formed musical.

Sahr Ngaujah’s performance as Fela is mesmerizing, so much so that the talented supporting cast hardly get a look in. The band is absolutely brilliant, helped by  Robert Kaplowitz perfect sound design. There’s much to enjoy and it’s more than a jukebox musical, but there isn’t enough characterisation or narrative depth for a piece of musical theatre. Go for the music, colour and the energy of it all.

It doesn’t really need the NT – it could easily survive in the commercial sector – and the NT doesn’t need it – though this clearly does bring in a new audience, the NT has done much to bring in this audience before. It’s not the first time the Olivier stage has been full of black talent in recent years – Emperor Jones, Death & The Kings Horsemen and Welcome to Thebes. I think their resources would be better used nurturing and showcasing new British musical theatre, which they haven’t done since Jerry Springer – The Opera.

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