Pros: Engaging, funny and charismatic.
Cons: Storytelling, dim lights, warmth and faint music might be a dangerous mix, no matter how good the stories!
Never before have I sat through an hour and a half of straight story telling, and for that reason I was skeptical as to how my attention would wander. However, I was pleasantly surprised, for Kwaku, Ananse and Other African Folk Tales offered much more than I expected, and seemed to be a hit with everyone else too.
A generously attended auditorium, filled with both young and old, made for an up-beat atmosphere from the get go. ‘Master Musician’ Jo Jo added to the lively mood, at the same time mellowing it with his soulful, introductory African drum and song. The stage is a subtle picture of African culture, with its small arrangement of traditional instruments, patterned fabrics, cushions and authentic clothing. Joining Jo Jo in this beautiful set is Jan Blake, a highly acclaimed, British born, African storyteller with heaps of stage presence. She has everything that it takes to get an audience to participate… “I say honor, you say respect”, she requests, to which we happily proceed to obey. Though, of course, when we don’t quite deliver with as much sass as she would have liked, we are asked to repeat, and only then does she agree to tell us a story.
First we’re told of Ananse, a figure of importance and self-assuredness, who learns a valuable lesson from his selfish ways. He demands a wife that cooks and does not much more, and in return gets a wife with a secret gaping hole under her armpit that swallows and talks and smiles. (Yep!) There’s a bit more to it, but it is actually very fascinating and the way that it is told is highly amusing.
Next up is storyteller TUUP, who is relaxed and extravagant at the same time. He is equally as compelling as Blake, with his tales of men in African kingdoms. One story is about a man who plays the Kora (as Jo Jo does in the background throughout; it is beautifully hypnotic, but on the wrong day, I’m sure it could send you adrift!). We are told how the man’s tantalizing music attracts the wrong guests. The drama is real, TUUP and his impersonations are hilarious… and so is the end of the story, which I won’t give away.
Blake and TUUP take it in turns to deliver tales. Some are funny, some are subtle, some are slightly harder to follow and some, like the one about time and death, are actually quite moving and poignant. In between all of that there’s also the joy of a steady beat, and even a beautiful song or two. It is certainly an impressive experience to be captivated by a performance like this, where scenery and spectacle are replaced with a pure, deeply woven passion for story, tradition and character.
Written and Directed By: Jan Blake and TUUP, in partnership with the Crick Crack Club
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run