Multiple authorship in the theatre can work brilliantly, illustrating different facets of a single theme, as it did for Rupert Goold's exploration of the 9/11 attack, Decade. But the risk of engaging several writers is that the focus becomes too diffuse and the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
This show directed by Rufus Norris at the Young Vic is a co-production with the Royal Court and has been several years in gestation. It uses some of the most stunning designs and visual effects I have ever seen on stage and a tip-top cast to explore Yoruba culture, not so much in Nigeria but in the post-slavery diaspora. The music, the dance, the costumes, the lighting and the acting are all breathtakingly good, but the words rarely reach the same level. The five writers employed hail from as far away as Cuba, Brazil and the US as well as the UK. Some of the individual scenes work better than others, notably a plantation owner dismissing the woman who was once his wet-nurse on the day Brazil abolishes slavery in the 1880s, and a lunch counter sit-in during the U.S. civil rights protests of the early 1960s. We also see an American tourist visiting a Cuban prostitute and a young black British woman athlete suffering peer pressure on the streets of South London. But many of these scenes are too long and don't really go anywhere, and the common thread linking them isn't strong enough. I would have welcomed more focus on present-day Africa to bind the diaspora scenes together.
With this kind of project, too much time and work has been invested to allow the director the freedom to be absolutely ruthless on behalf of the audience in cutting and reshaping the show. This is not to diminish the performances by Noma Dumezweni, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and others. The design by Katrina Lindsay, with the help of projections by Lysander Ashton's 59 Productions, which also worked on the Olympics opening ceremony, should win a fistful of awards. The best moments are when little or nothing is said and the show relies on its visual impact and the actors' movements.