"A Malian Ugly Duckling's Tale"
by Rebecca Wall for remotegoat on 11/06/17

A performance by the Crick Crack Club at the British Museum never fails to whisk me away from Sunday afternoon blues, and 'The Son of the Buffalo Woman' was no exception. Jan Blake's energetic narration described the birth of Sundiata Keita, legendary founder of the Malian Empire. The story was previously unknown to me, but like other Myths Retold skilfully celebrated the exoticism of a tale distant in time and space, while highlighting the universal experiences that we all share, from the bitterness and vulnerability of old age, to the jealous rivalry of discarded wives.

This was a tale that championed the underdog, and lightly reminded us of our duties to the vulnerable in society. Its heroine is not a beautiful princess, but an ugly, poor young woman taken from her home to a foreign land to fulfil a prophecy that her son would be its greatest king. As we watched the slow, unspectacular development of her child I found echoes of the Tale of the Ugly Duckling, too; a refreshing and inspiring alternative to the standard Disney sentiment that only the beautiful are worthy of legend. Indeed, so slow was Sundiata Keita to embrace his destiny and channel his potential powers that only towards the end of the performance did we begin to glimpse what he might be capable of, leaving me impatient to see the next instalment of the story in the Autumn.

There is always a danger in descending into a cosy, darkened lecture theatre illuminated by the comfortable glow of fairy lights that an afternoon nap might beckon, but here the energy and tempo of the performance was underscored by John Predare's skilful percussion, and Jan Blake's playful encouragement of audience participation. While I couldn't help feeling that I might have preferred a few cocktails before joining in with the ululating, the sense of camaraderie and an experience shared was invigorating. Most importantly, I left with my curiosity piqued, and a desire to learn more about the culture that gave rise to the myth.

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