Mark Ludmon reviews Anansi the Spider Re-Spun playing as part of the Unicorn Theatre online.
Anansi the Spider Re-Spun
Unicorn Theatre online
Watch online until 4 July
Last autumn, children were being entertained with the stories of Anansi the trickster spider at London’s Unicorn Theatre. Nine months on, the theatre building is closed due to the coronavirus, but the show has found new life through an enjoyable adaptation streaming online for free in partnership with The Guardian.
Despite being isolated in their own homes, all three of the original performers have returned for a series of three beautifully crafted 15-minute videos created with production company Illuminations. The first is now live, with two more coming at 11am on 6 and 13 June, and, although I may be slightly older than the target age group of three to eight, I found it a delight.
Anansi the spider is probably the most popular and well-known character in the folktales of Africa and the Caribbean – he is currently being re-imagined in TV series American Gods in the form of Orlando Jones’ Mr Nancy. For a younger audience, director Justin Audibert stuck to the original folktales, with Afia Abusham, Sapphire Joy and Juliet Okotie bringing the fables to life on stage, and now on film.
The first, Brother Anansi and Brother Snake, celebrates the spider’s notorious laziness and craftiness when he finds himself without food during a famine. All the other animals teamed together to plant vegetables but Anansi chose to just chill and relax. Hungry and desperate, he hatches a deal with Brother Snake to get food, not worrying about his side of the bargain – to be whipped by Snake’s long, long tail. He thinks his cunning will always bring him out on top but could he be about to get his comeuppance?
Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s design, Todd MacDonald’s editing and Lucy Cullingford’s movement and dance bring colour and liveliness to the film, with music and sound by Duramaney Kamara, including an insanely catchy song for Brother Anansi. Unicorn Theatre has also produced a sing-along video on its YouTube channel and there are free downloadable activities for teachers and parents. Children can also send in a recording and feature in an online Anansi community choir video.
One eight-year-old viewer – a regular at Unicorn Theatre – found the first film “cleverly made”, especially as the actors were all performing individually in isolation. She spotted that, if it weren’t for the series’ title, viewers wouldn’t know Anansi was a spider (although, as a trickster, he did sometimes take other forms) but that didn’t affect her enjoyment and, along with her parents and 12-year-old brother, they particularly “laughed at and loved” Brother Snake.
Performing all the roles, the three women look out at the viewer in a way that hints at the interactivity of the original show, where a hungry Anansi tried to lure children on stage for his feast, reminding us of the inevitable limitations of a filmed performance. But, just as Anansi was famous for spinning yarns for his mischief-making, the video is a joyful piece of storytelling with a charming anti-hero which goes some way to capturing the pleasures of a live show while we wait for the theatres to reopen.
Each of the three videos, which are captioned, will be available to watch for three weeks at YouTube.com/UnicornTheatre.