Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars | Theatre Royal Stratford East | Review

The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars | Theatre Royal Stratford East | Review

Despite a promising new playwright and a talented young actor, on this occasion, the accomplished and unquestionably gifted director Nadia Fall does not unite this production’s elements for full impact.
With a bolt, we are introduced to Femi (Kibong Tanji) who is the (older by 8 minutes) twin sister of brutally murdered Seun. With a hearty nod to Hamlet, Femi describes how her twin’s ghost has appeared at the foot of her bed at midnight relaying the hate crime, a murder most foul and unnatural, of which he was victim and for which the killers currently stand trial with little confidence of justice being done.

Kibong Tanji in The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo by The Other Richard.
Kibong Tanji in The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo by The Other Richard.

Also like Hamlet, Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play is written with verse and demands musicality in its speaking. The new work has a driving rhythm of slam poetry rather than iambic pentameter but nonetheless is exact in its word choices, phrasing and syllable counts. Whilst not every word is golden and his storytelling is capable rather than (yet) showing Shakespearian genius, the script in its rhythmic complexity requires the director to conduct a symphony as much as stage scenes.

Kibong Tanji’s voice, presence and training qualify her to do justice to Baruwa-Etti’s text and indeed she delivers a wholly committed, physically-commanding performance bolstered by impressive movement direction from Danielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe. However, Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Artistic Director, Nadia Fall, is so heavy-handed with the application of sound designer Tingying Dong’s underscore that she overwhelms the verse and dilutes its power. Perhaps the myriad challenges of lockdown restricted this production’s opportunity to develop fully, but – whatever the reason – its constituent ingredients fight each other rather than coalesce to offer necessary richness and texture. As such, the net effect is unfortunately a limited range of emotional notes.

Unlike the tragedy of the Danish prince, which cannot help but convey a range of feelings no matter who directs, Fall elicits only a constant howl of (understandable) rage – ignoring the stillness and occasional humour in the text and which marks human anguish. It’s almost as if Fall didn’t trust Baruwa-Etti’s writing enough just to let it breathe. The same director who brought magnificence in contrasting energy and moods in her production of Three Sisters at the National, has here assembled some powerful and clever visual imagery but hasn’t stepped up to conduct the piece as its cadence demands. As a consequence, not only does the cloying, sonorous score contribute melodrama (in its most literal sense) but it does so at the expense of sustaining essential dramatic emotional engagement.

Tanji delivers nearly every line with frantic breathlessness. Whilst appropriate and effective in certain moments, it eventually becomes monotonous and desensitising. Just as Hamlet does not sustain the terror and outrage experienced on the ramparts for five acts, nor should the character of Femi exist on stage for 60 minutes within a single fermata of fury.

Baruwa-Etti has written some self-aware, reflective and observational lines, and even gags, into his script. A self-conscious reference to Tarantino’s Kill Bill could have produced the sort of relief Hamlet’s Gravedigger sets up for the all-famous contemplative moment (‘To be or not to be’) but instead in The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, the ominous score swells, the actor doesn’t take a breath and the audience remains in a vortex of rage that spins so relentlessly my eager tear ducts are dry from exhaustion.

If Fall could gather her team and cut about 30% of the score – trusting the playwright’s words to resonate, naked and pure – the production would gain strength. If the character of Femi is permitted to stand still and silent on stage for even a few minutes such that the story and its varied feelings do some of the heavy-lifting, this tragedy stands a chance of reaching its trenchant and lyrical potential.

Perhaps some press night nerves and adjusting to the new acoustics of a socially-distanced theatre space made it trickier to offer varied pacing, but, as ever: the play’s the thing. By leaving out some dry ice and droning sound effects, this show would stand a much better chance of conveying wings as swift as meditation and thoughts of love to the audience that are at least hinted at by the script.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

This is bout those men
who stripped him of his crown,
treated that charcoal skin like concrete.
Peace will only come
when I make em come undone.

Femi is visited by her brother’s ghost. He takes her into the past, revealing the final moments before his murder. But with a lack of evidence and eyewitnesses considered unreliable, Femi is determined to set things right herself.

The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars explores trauma, rage and the extent one young woman will go to in her quest for justice.

Theatre Royal Stratford East has the pleasure of inviting you to the Press Night of
The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars

Cast and Creative
Kibong Tanji is playing Femi.
Written by Dipo Baruwa-Etti
Director Nadia Fall
Designer Peter McKintosh
Lighting Designer Oliver Fenwick
Sound Designer Tingying Dong
Movement Director Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe
Assistant Director Justina Kehinde
Supported by Telford Homes.
https://www.stratfordeast.com/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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