Mara Menzies: The Illusion of Truth
Scottish Storytelling Centre
August 13-17, 21-24 (13:30)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The omission of West African spirituality in either religious or New Age debates leaves such a huge gap in general European consciousness, that it’s a particular joy to partake in such deep mythical stories from long and influential African traditions. The Illusion of Truth is the first production made in Scotland that features stories inspired by the Orishas, the deities of Western Nigeria that have had such a deep impact wherever African people have gone in the ‘New World’.
In Mara Menzies, we have a hugely accomplished and experienced storyteller; I would imagine likely Scotland’s finest, to spin us a yarn about Ochosi, the hunter Orisha’s journey, throwing up some weighty questions along the way. Menzies has performed and led workshops around the world including Kenya, Singapore, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, the USA and across the UK. The Illusion of Truth is produced and directed by award-wining Brazilian Flava D’Avila and made possible by a Megaphone grant from the Workers Theatre. But the word ‘storytelling’ can’t quite portray the fullness of the experience that you have when witnessing her magical one-woman show.
Ochosi is the hunter Orisha, who traverses the forest so a pathway can be opened by Elegba, the divine trickster messenger of Oludumare. He helps us focus on our desired goals and reults and shows us the fastest way to our destiny. This is the story of his desperation to make his way to Oludumare the Creator, and become an Orisha himself. Mara made our heart race with the drama of the story, amazed us with her dancing, and made us smile as she played with a shy man and his wife in the audience. She teased them goodnaturedly as she shook her hips while channeling Oshun, the goddess of love, the sensual and lively African equivalent of Aphrodite, recently made more widely known by Beyonce. The audience laughed as she swiftly became the bossy, dramatic Nigerian mother that we can all easily recognise.
A simple drop of a hat or an extra skirt brings with it a change in everything; accent, tone, expression, feeling. Mara’s spellbinding presence reels in the audience a little closer as each fabulous character emerges. Braids fly and chants begin. Mara stops as she moves around the intimate circle and stares or perhaps asks us a question. She managed to hold us together as one in the experience, involving us all by handing us a prop, or guiding us in call and response, or throwing out a deep philosophical question.
‘The Illusion of Truth’, of course is keenly relevant to our current situation, as it explores our relationship with truth and ‘alternative facts’.This is a kind of story startlingly new to most of Scotland, yet contains universal warnings for all of us humans; warnings against stubbornly pursuing the things that we want so badly, yet will not bring us the fortune we want.
For the hour, we were transported and uplifted to another realm, as if the ancestors and the Orishas themselves have been called to witness the event along with us. Just don’t make the mistake of nibbling on the popcorn thinking it’s just a nice little touch to keep us sated for the next hour. It’s a traditional offering to Ochosi in the New World.
Reviewed by Lisa Williams