REVIEW: Anansi the Spider (Unicorn Theatre)

After last season’s successful re-imagining of Aesop’s Fables, Justin Audibert has chosen to open his first season as artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre with more traditional folktales, this time of Afro-Caribbean origin. Through traditional techniques of storytelling and song, Anansi The Spider brings to life this popular character of Ghanian heritage, following the folk hero as his stories spread from West Africa and the Caribbean to Audibert’s own London.

Aimed at ages 3-7, this colourful show is visually stunning. Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s set consists of a giant tree, around (and occasionally on top of) which the action takes place. With just a single row of bench seating for the adults, the children sit on the grassy green floor, looking up in awe at the action. Dressed in traditional West African costumes (also designed by Greenaway-Bailey), a trio of engaging performers (Afia Abusham, Juliet Okotie and Sapphire Joy) take it in turns to play the role of Anansi as the character travels across the world, morphing from spider to man in the process.

We begin with Afia Abusham as Anansi the trickster spider, who tries to hoard all the wisdom of the world but ultimately learns his lesson from a small child. Talking of small children, the youngsters of the audience naturally took on the role of trickster during this story, hiding the pieces of ‘wisdom’ handed to them for safekeeping. Chatting with the cast during the Unicorn’s season preview this week, Mummy was curious to learn whether this was a one-off event from a particularly cheeky audience or if it happens every show. Apparently the answer is the latter! Luckily the moral of this story turned out to be that it is better to share your wisdom…..

The second story is perhaps the darkest, both metaphorically and in lighting design. In the midst of famine, Sapphire Joy’s Anansi (too lazy to help with the harvest ) tricks his way into acquiring food from friends (some of whom end up in his cooking pot), until eventually he gets his comeuppance. Children join the action here too, with several volunteering themselves to join Anansi’s feast, but thankfully all escaping his pot.

Food is at the heart of the final story too, with Juliet Okotie’s greedy Anansi torn between attending two parties. Devising a cunning plan to get double-dinner, he sends one of his sons off to each, expecting them to call for him when the food is ready. But with both serving at the same time, will Anansi end the night full or famished?

Engaging for adults and children alike, Anansi the Spider is a perfect example of how to make theatre that is accessible to children without dumbing it down. All the audience interaction feels really natural, to the point where Mummy doesn’t really know how the children ended up on stage offering themselves as Anansi’s dinner. It just happened. The integration of traditional instruments into the story is also really clever, with Duramaney Kamara’s compositions driving forward the stories, as complex Caribbean and African rhythms transport the audience across the globe. One word of warning though: You will have ‘I am Brother Anansi’ stuck in your head for the foreseeable future.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).

Anansi the Spider is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 27 October 2019.