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The Theatreguide.London Review

Karoo Moose
Tricycle Theatre      Summer 2009

Lara Foot Newton's play, imported from Cape Town's Baxter Theatre Centre, is a fable-like tale of abuse, revenge and escape, presented in a mode that evokes traditional African story-telling while using all the tools of sophisticated theatre.

If some elements don't translate clearly to an English audience and the performance style isn't quite as original and fresh as the author-director may think, it still has a charm to which many may respond.

At the centre of Newton's sometimes sprawling story is a fifteen-year-old girl who is raped by a village hard man and further abused by a family and culture that passively accept this as normal.

She eventually finds her way to a liberation for herself and other children, even if it is only to a nebulous Someplace Better.

(The moose of the title escaped on the way to a zoo, was killed by the girl, and reappears later in mystical form to aid in her vengeance.)

The play is presented in Story Theatre style, with at least 70% of the text direct narration and description, broken up among the six performers so that rarely does anyone speak more than a sentence at a time before passing the narrative on to another or to a brief dramatised scene.

Each of the six also plays a key character in the story, while doubling and redoubling in many secondary roles and as musicians for the several song, chanting or dance interludes.

While it has an African flavour, the basic style is essentially the same as Trevor Nunn used in the RSC Nicholas Nickleby in 1980, or Paul Sills developed in Chicago in the 1950s (which undoubtedly had further antecedents).

So the effect is likely to be not quite as revelatory as Newton might wish, while some of the musical interludes and more mystical sequences, like the reappearance of the moose, are symbolically opaque.

On the other hand, playing a gang rape as a football game and a birth as breaking through a bass drum are both clever and evocative.

There is considerable dramatic power to the play, not just in the girl's plight, but in the portrait of a culture that (with echoes of the Pied Piper) doesn't deserve its children.

There is also a great deal of easy humour, in some of the cartoon-like secondary characters and in the performers' infectious joy in story-telling.

In a cast who function as a real ensemble, her central role and her subtle underplaying help Chuma Sopotela stand out.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Karoo Moose - Tricycle  Theatre 2009


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