‘Anansi the Spider’ transfers to the Open Air Theatre in 2021. This review is from the Unicorn Theatre in October 2019
Anansi the trickster spider went global a long time ago. But Justin Audibert’s inaugural production in charge of the Unicorn takes folklore’s most famous arachnid right back to his roots.
Under Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s sprawling tree set, performers Afia Abusham, Sapphire Joy and Juliet Okotie file on clutching djembe drums, wearing West African clothes and accents as they launch into a funny, energetic trio of tales.
In the first act, Anansi steals the world’s wisdom, only to reflect that this might have been a rather unwise decision; in the second he blags some vegetables from a green, er, fingered snake and cons a series of unfortunate other animals into paying the steep price demanded for the veg; the third hops to modern London – this time Anansi is a chancer who concocts an elaborate scheme to bag himself two dinners and ends up falling flat on his face.
The three women divvy up three Anansi roles for a funny and lively show for ages three to seven that’s essentially old-fashioned storytelling, done with pace and care. There are no splashy spider costumes, but they’re not necessary – the young audience get that each woman is a different facet of Anansi.
And if it’s mostly about the power of their words, then engaging music and lighting switches up the mood when small attention spans threaten to wander. There’s also some sublime physicality, be that Anansi teetering precariously up the enormous tree set, or the confetti ‘wisdom’, scattered into an excited crowd.