Sunday, 16 November 2008

Muhammad Ali & Me - Oval House Theatre

Muhammad Ali & Me by Mojisola Adebayo
Director: Sheron Wray
Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile

‘Muhammad Ali & Me’ is a high energy, thought provoking production, that depicts an imaginary relationship between a child growing up in care during the 1970’s and Muhammad Ali. When Mojitola’s father leaves the country he is unable to take her with him and places her in a foster home. Mojitola’s way of coping in this unknown situation and with the sexual abuse she experiences there is to retreat into her imagination. There she has conversations with Muhammad Ali and through the stories he tells her about his own experiences she learns to cope with her own situation and fights for her own place in society.

This use of dual story telling forces the audience to concentrate on the action in front of them as there is a huge amount of information being given to them. Not only do the cast explain about Muhammad and Mojitola’s life stories they also interweave a strong sense of time and place into it. The themes of racism, war, naming, love, determination and pacifism are explored through the eyes of a child and of an adult. This is all pulled together by a set, costumes and music that are influenced by the 1970s.

Although there was a lot of content within the piece it was not forced onto you as an audience member. The issues were dealt with in a sensitive, humorous way that meant the audience did not get bogged down with the seriousness of the themes. Instead they were allowed to enjoy the energy and quirkiness of the characters portrayed as well as being given information that they were able to go away with and think about afterwards.

Through the use of movement, projections, sign language and verbatim pieces the three actors played a variety of fictional and non fictional characters with ease. The audience had very little trouble understanding what characters were being portrayed at which time due to all three actors’ strong characterisations for each part. This was made even more impressive due to the consistent gender and colour swapping each actor went through. On occasions the odd costume was used to help demonstrate the different characters but this was kept to a minimum.
Integrating the sign language was an original idea and one that I had not seen before. I wondered if it might detract from the performance, but it did completely the opposite. The Referee (Jacqui Beckford) signed the whole performance from on stage in character. Her movements while she was signing looked almost like dancing and every so often the other cast members joined in and signed simultaneously adding to the dance like effect. The deaf members of the audience really seemed to appreciate this integration and it added another level to the piece.
I would highly recommend this production to teenagers and adults. It’s a slick, well researched, imaginative piece that gives an insight into the lives of two very different people whose experiences are more similar than you would think.
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