Message in the Clay River – Camden Fringe, Cockpit Theatre

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Mo Korede

Director: Rochelle Wilson

Yoruba cosmology is an extraordinarily rich and complex one involving over 400 Orishas – gods or spirits. It’s a brave dramatist therefore who tries to get to the essence of it in an hour-long piece of theatre. Writer Mo Korede must at least be commended for his attempt in his evolving project, presented at the Camden Fringe as Message in the Clay River.

The show works best with its short interludes of ensemble work, using spectacle, dance and drumming. The audience may not be familiar with Yoruba mythology, but the physical aspects of the work speak on a visceral level. The incarnation of three key Orishas, Osun, Obatala and Esu, are harder to bring to life dramatically, although Theresa Albano, Shane Afolabi and Dominique Clemetine are impressive in their respective roles.

There is a lot of reliance on narration by the chorus which if undramatic, is interesting: we can see parallels between Yoruba and other creation myths. Dry land is separated from water by Osun, the female river deity and Obatala, Prometheus-like, fashions living beings from clay. Once Obatala is made drunk, however, he becomes careless in his task – the explanation for the flawed nature of humanity.

Beyond this, the narrative is hard to follow, not helped by several supporting actors needing to enunciate and project with greater clarity. A short scene in which two of them are made to talk over each other as if in duet ends up in incoherence.

In his publicity, Korede writes of employing Greek theatre as a tool for story telling. Its use here is not entirely clear. There is certainly a chorus, and there are obviously gods. But Greek drama had three strict genres, and Message in the Clay River does not conform to tragedy, comedy or satyr play. Nor does Korede aim for uniformity in tone. In general the characters speak in elevated style, but then some break into modern speech rhythms and diction. ‘Get out of my face!’ Obatala yells at one moment. A similar disjunction occurs when the animal sacrifices brought to one of the gods are revealed as an assortment of fluffy toys. When the god in his rage tears off the head of a stuffed bear, the effect is disconcerting rather than dramatic. The moments of fourth-wall-breaking feel similarly out of kilter.

As it stands, the message of Message in the Clay River remain opaque.

Reviewed on 9 August 2022

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

The Review Hub Score

Opaque narrative

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