Is God Is by Aleshea Harris – Royal Court Theatre
Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is arrives from the US with a high reputation, and talks a good game. A hip hop, Afropunk, spaghetti Western sounds irresistible and the set up – two sisters who cross the country to avenge their mother – promises much. However, it doesn’t really live up to expectations. It starts dramatically, with a sheet of fire crossing the stage, scarring sisters Racine (Dame-Jasmine Hughes) and Anaia (Alfie Fuller) and supposedly killing their mother. Not long after she turns up, years having passed, hideously scarred, dying, and demanding her daughters avenge her by finding and killing their father and his family.
Nehassaiu deGannes’s performance as the mother (She) is a highlight. She is very funny under her enveloping bandages, making ludicrous demands of the children she’s not seen for years. However, the play only really works as a comedy, and it becomes increasingly hard to locate the laughs. As the journey progress, the characters become less amusing. The two half brothers, one arrogant the other nerdy, are less than hilarious, and a scene with a corrupt, pill-popping lawyer misfires. Meanwhile, the defining characteristic of the action becomes the scenes of ultra violence that aspire to Tarantino, but lack the comic inevitability that makes his films so watchable. There’s more to Tarantino than lots of killing, and the play feels unmoored from any social setting or reality, existing in an unreality that strips its events of any significance. There’s an Afropunk odyssey out there to be written for sure, but unfortunately this isn’t it.