Amazonia @ Young Vic, London

cast list
Diogo De Brito Sales, Daniel Cerqueira, Meline Danielewicz, Jeffery Kissoon, Daisy Lewis, Tyrone Lopez, Chris New, Wale Ojo, Golda Rosheuvel, Amanda Symonds, Simon Trinder

directed by
Paul Heritage
There is always a unique buzz created by a theatre filled with school children, all sat squashed up against each other in their little uniforms, and as a result there was a genuine sense of excitement before this performance began.

And yet, while the kids did seem to have a lot of fun, I can’t say that quite as much entertainment was provided for the grown-ups in the audience.

This year’s Christmas production at the Young Vic is intended to be a celebration of traditional life in the Amazonian rainforest, told through a fusion of Brazilian myths and legends.

The main story running throughout the play is that of a smallholder’s prize bull, and how a pregnant woman is driven mad by cravings for a forbidden fruit, snake eggs and finally the tongue of that very bull.
Here, the ancient myth is woven together with a warning about over-development of the rainforest, with the scene in which the woman eats the tongue juxtaposed directly against the cutting down of the trees surrounding the farm. But the comparison is muddled to say the least, and it has to be said that confusion and an inconsistency of tone is, unfortunately, the main blight upon this evidently well-intentioned play.

In a triumphant closing scene, the bull is resurrected by virtue of a power created by the villagers all dancing together, but the state of the forest, now razed to the ground, is completely forgotten in the celebration. The only attempt to reconcile this conflict is the odd, casual reading out of a declaration made by people living in the Amazonian region in the 1980s, in which they swore to protect the forest.

It was this discord that made Amazonia such a strange experience. One moment, it would be all bad jokes and slapstick, often involving people falling into pools of water, (I did laugh, you’d be a robot not to) and the next we would be being asked to take very seriously the most simplistic of discussions about the no doubt incredibly complicated issue of rainforest development.

At the end of the show, just to confuse matters further, the spirit of activist Chico Mendes grabbed a microphone, spoke directly to the audience, and introduced a coda in which a young woman gets married to a creature half-man half-fish. It’s all very odd.

The main positive of this play is the incidental music, which is performed live with gusto and invention, and adds the atmosphere which is sadly often lacking from the writing. Myriad weird and wonderful instruments were produced over the course of the evening, all of which contributed to a great score which ranged from re-creating the eerie sounds of the jungle in the still of the night, to the jamboree of the final scene.

The cast too, have to be praised for throwing themselves into the performance with an admirable exuberance, but unfortunately their energy is not really enough to compensate for the slight and tangled nature of the play overall. The kids might have enjoyed getting wet, but I’m afraid this is a case of a show which ultimately amounts to less than the sum of its rather disparate parts.

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