Far away from the glitz and glamour of the West End’s heavily-produced, heavily-accomplished machine, charity arts organisation Phakama opened the doors of Queens Mary University for something a little bit different. The Sankofa! Festival was the culmination of a six-month paid internship for twelve young people, none of whom were in education or employment at the time. Given the opportunity to produce a festival from the ground-up, what they delivered was three nights of fresh, raw theatre.
‘Ivory Tower’ was the first performance of the festival, taking the audience on a journey through purgatory in themes reminiscent of Greek mythology. Audience interaction was top of the agenda here and, while I’d argue that the content was a bit too childish for me, it was a well-conceived immersive experience.
The centrepiece of the second day was a production titled ‘Dream. Cease. Repeat.’, a trio of short plays exploring the issues of prejudice, sacrifice and loneliness. Connecting World War 2 to 70’s East London to contemporary London was cleverly done, and there was excellent use of visual media. Where the production falls down a bit is the predictability of the stories, but the potential for improvement is definitely there.
Rounding off the festival was ‘Rivers Of Love’, riffing on ‘Romeo And Juliet’ with the story of a romance between a white British boy and an Indian girl. The play took the immersive experience to a whole new level, with the audience split in two and taken to one of the central character’s ‘bedrooms’, and Facebook used as a way to move the story forward in a beautifully innovative decision. The action then moved to the main stage, with more visual media and a live band to boot, but I felt the energy of the first half of the show diminished a little in the second half. Had the play been given more time, and cliches averted, there was potential here for something very emotionally engaging.
The Sankofa! Festival was by no means perfect, and had its flaws as any creative endeavour would. But what shone through my experience of this festival as a spectator was the collaborative nature of the entire event. Many of these young practitioners had little or no experience of the arts world; yet, they banded together to create something they can truly be proud of. The cast of actors, which was predominantly young itself, was very good, and the technical side of the productions was faultless. While I sadly couldn’t see any of the daytime workshops, I was able to see the various art installations also on display, offering yet more insight into the untapped talent out there.
We can walk down the street any day of the week, and see posters for a theatre production with big names and big production values. But for three days, I was able to go back to basics and watch a whole new generation of creative artists take their first steps into the world. It was a little rough around the edges, it was a little raw; but it was also a treat to watch, warts and all.
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