Dark Matter, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

In the most supportive of circumstances, grief can feel insurmountable. It’s even harder for a young queer Londoner whose family is in Zimbabwe. How does Takura ensure her Mbuya is mourned properly and what is her relationship to her ancestors, anyway? In a space somewhere between clubbing, Co-star, quantum physics and ancient rituals, she improvises building a bridge to the ancestral plane. A vulnerable and exposing struggle with borders and contrasting cultural norms, this is a considered reflection on how we deal with a loved one’s death.

Movement and spoken word feature heavily, and smoothly capture the complex emotional landscape of a person balancing multiple, sometimes-conflicting identities, grief and longing. There’s also great contrast from the beginning of the show where Takura flirts and dances at a rave, her body euphorically becoming one with those around her. A phone call from mum disrupts this vibe and changes the tone for the rest of the piece. Takura is now grounded – quite literally so since her passport’s with the Home Office. A sense of duty to her Mbuya and others who have gone before her propels her into an uncertain mission to ensure her family’s dead are suitably honoured and assisted on their paths to the world beyond ours, but she isn’t sure how to go about it. A poignant and sometimes funny journey ensues as she draws on a range of influences to reach out to her ancestors.

Animated illustrations and mask flesh out the visual landscape, though these could be used more throughout the production to make it even richer and more varied. Sound also plays a crucial role in establishing setting and atmosphere, but it does not detract from the central performance. Typical of festivals, this isn’t the best space for this show, but it’s used as well as it can be and the design elements are thoughtful and well-integrated.

Though many shows at the festival feel brand new and underdeveloped, this one is an exception. Multiple forms and styles integrate to tell a moving and relevant story.

Dark Matter runs through 26 February.

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