Review: Anansi and The Grand Prize, Bristol Old Vic

Enlivened with the spirit of carnival, the cast of Anansi and The Grand Prize embolden some and engage all with their energetic storytelling. They tell the modernised folktale of Anansi (performed by Winston Pyke), as he weaves his way through multiple marital dilemmas, relying more on luck than the trickster charm which characterizes him.

The tale has obstacles, rewards and an inevitable predictability which satisfies. However, the plot is less central within this performance and rather a medium through which the characterful humour and music can be explored. 

Anansi and The Grand Prize is anchored in entertainment, with caricatures, powerful dancing and the catchy songs, played live, which one generation above me can’t resist. They endeavour to create an atmosphere which laughs in the face of inhibitions and a sense of being truly present in the space. The sensory engagement and purposeful departure from existential or societal questioning are refreshing and revitalizing. 

Ruth Ramsay’s set design, which majorly consists of a floor design, is almost childlike in its colourful and chaotic line drawings which capture the free spirit of the performance. 

The dancing and constant high physicality of the ensemble of Zara May Gabbidon, Chane Paries, and Elyssa Richards is fearless and the most enjoyable element of the performance. Charleen Downer’s choreography seamlessly combines African and Caribbean dynamism with commercial dance. 

The directorial decision to have the cast frequently rally up, respond to and venture into the audience iterates the active and communal engagement Nick Young is aiming for. And within the intimate studio space, this may kindle a carefreeness that leads to some of the most humorous moments, due to the joy of spontaneity. My British rigidness definitely wouldn’t allow me to sing along, speak out or stand up to dance. So, my joy was to an extent stilted by nervous uncertainty of being dragged out of my comfortable clapping along. 

However, whether the prospect of audience participation and carefree joyfulness is edging out of your comfort zone or a pleasant immersion back into it, Anansi and The Grand Prize was an evening of pure fun.

Anansi and The Grand Prize played the Bristol Old Vic until 21 December. For more information see the Bristol Old Vic website.