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Review - Under the Kundè Tree

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Southwark Playhouse - Borough

Playing until 17th June 2023



Writer and Producer

Clarisse Makundul


Director

Ebenezer Bamgboye


Move Director

Rose Ryan


Review {Gifted - PR Invite}

Set in the 1950s, Under the Kundè Tree follows the story of Sara (Selina Jones) as she tries to shape her future and her surroundings as Cameroonians petition for independence. This is a tale of the fight for freedom and navigation of womanhood in a time of turmoil.


Life as a woman, especially for those that defy the societal norms at the time, is not easy anywhere in the world in the early- to mid-1900s. In those trying times, women were discriminated against, lack recognition and confined to the roles imposed upon them by men. Many of Sara’s experiences are the same as women's from other cultures at various points of history. She is denied education, opportunities and choices by her father, or Pa (Yinka Awoni).


Sara's situation is a reflection of the harsh living conditions of Cameroonians while the country was under French control. Writer, Clarisse Makundul, draws close semblance of the two situations and the people’s desire to breakout of their confines. However, it becomes increasingly apparent that many lack a true understanding of independence and what it is that they are aiming to achieve. The conversation between Jean (Fode Simbo) and Pa is one of the key moments in which this is brought to the spotlight. While Jean is willing to prioritise his fight for independence over his own safety and relationship with Sara, he is unable to provide a succinct or convincing description of what independence means to him. Sara on the other hand, seeks independence from the shackles placed upon her by Pa, who expects her to marry the chief of the area. She chooses to break away from her family to pursue a life with Jean. Even Sara’s cousin, Nadia (Amma-Afi Osei), who initially objected Sara’s decisions, finds a new life in the city as she is abandoned by her husband’s family after his death. In fact it is Nadia that makes Sara understand that some of her limitations are placed on her by herself as education does not only come from books, but is also learned from one’s surroundings, experiences and the people around them.


Selina Jones leads this company of fantastic actors, delivering their individual passions and sufferings. The interaction between Jones and Awoni are especially powerful. Despite the fact that Pa is harsh on Sara’s actions and beats her when she rebels against him, it is clear that he is only doing what he thinks is best for her daughter and the family, limited by his own experiences. Perhaps because of this, Sara is able to accept Pa’s actions and seeks to reconciliate later on in the play. This is in stark contrast to the harsh conditions placed on the Cameroonians by the French, who is there to maximise their gains with little to no considerations on the natives. Osei also showcases her flexibility as an actor in this production. Her interactions with Jones are dynamic, shifting from playfulness and harmless teasing between two cousins to emotionally impactful debates in almost all of their scenes. Furthermore, Osei delivers emotional background vocals in a couple of scenes.


This production makes effective use of a central staging set up, allowing the audience to more immerse themselves in the action. Rose Ryan, movement director, makes fantastic use of the chairs to portray the harm inflicted on the characters. In these cases, Jones and Osei closely mimic the positions of the chairs and react to the assaulter’s actions, depicting the powerful physical damage that would be difficult to deliver on stage.


Under the Kundè Tree paints a vivid narrative on the different characters’ perspectives of freedom and delivers a powerful message that independence is achieved through one’s own resolves and realisations, not something that is granted by others.


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