Review: Plant Fetish, HOME, Manchester

Like a perennial evergreen, Chanje Kunda’s Plant Fetish continues to flower at HOME since it first blossomed during January’s Push Festival. Her solo show, which she delivers almost entirely seated on a sofa, begins as an open, colloquial confession before ending in a wild venture into her titular love affair with plants.

The admirable bravery of her solo performance, addressing issues varying from the vanity of social media to men’s egotistical lechery and her complex PTSD, is rewarded by the enjoyable zest of her social observations. Though obviously rehearsed, her natural delivery and almost conversational style, making direct eye contact with members of the front row as though they’re close friends in her living room, creates a comfortingly relaxed atmosphere. However, it takes too long for her seated stream of consciousness to be broken by movement, while her constant vocal pattern of rising intonation denies emphasis to any of her discussion.

She’s not alone onstage. Perhaps not “a harem of stunning tropical plants adorning the stage”, but a sizeable collection of house plants keeps her company, her only reliable source of meaningful connection. They glow and create shadow under Nigel Edwards’ lighting, fading between warm oranges and cold blues to evoke her therapeutic dreams of deserts and moonlight.

These idiosyncrasies which stylise the show, however, present obstacles in our ability to fully relate to Kunda, inhibiting her attempts to universalise her woes as the everyday struggles of modern life. How many in the audience, for example, really identify with her obsessive, house-filling hoarding of pot plants as the sanctified objects of devoted worship?

The show may celebrate her newfound confidence and resistance to being defined by past suffering—by the cracks in the plate, to use her metaphor—but her condition is largely denied the candid treatment she gives to her Tinder tribulations. It seems odd to construct a show exposing the trauma which goes unnoticed in daily life, to then refuse confronting it with little more than dropping passing references to a diagnosis.

While a degree of levity has to be applied—Kunda’s frequent chuckles suggest she doesn’t take herself too seriously—it’s unclear how much is irreverent. It’s difficult to view her closing moments of seducing pot plants with sexual dancing and marrying a cactus as an empowering spectacle, instead of a risibly abstract conceit. She seems to mostly intend for a playfully facetious tone, but such an absurd climax seems to betray the importance of the mental health issues buried underneath.

Plant Fetish is playing at HOME, Manchester until November 30. For more information and tickets, see the HOME website.