Justice can be such an objective word – more of a feeling than something we can pin down, and so rarely is it achieved as desired for all that seek it. There are those who trust in the law and its enforcers to stay the course, whilst others create their own justice veiled in misguided morality, and then there are those who do not believe that any form of justice exists at all.
Navigating this minefield is Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s new play The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, the first play in the reopening of Theatre Royal Stratford East. Femi, a twenty-something Black woman, is trying her best to control her emotions following the loss of her twin brother, Seun. But when he appears at the end of her bed and shows her the brutality with which he was murdered, it sets her on a tempestuous path of revenge.
Across its hour-long run time, Baruqa-Etti’s text develops a strikingly real woman, displayed in all her flaws and contradictions – the wounds left by grief painful to the touch. As well as fitting perfectly with her character, the poetic structure and language of Femi’s monologue is like a drum that controls the pace of the story, rising and falling with her emotional turmoil. Filled to the brim with pop culture references, there is a comical tone leant to even her darkest moments, making us soften when we are perhaps not on her side.
Nadia Fall’s direction is completely on point, delivering a slick production that is engrossing from start to finish. Relying not just on the strength of the text, but layering in stunning movement by Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe and delicate sound design by Tingying Dong. Fall breathes life onto the stage once more. The immersion into Femi’s world becomes consuming, moving like a whip from moment to moment in a breathless fashion, whilst delivering a varied performance that keeps us interested and guessing where the action is moving next.
Breaking onto the stage with the energy of a bull in a china shop, Kibong Tanji brings a manic and relentless presence to Femi that makes room for all the twists and turns of this epic play. However, unlike her character Tanji is always totally in control, especially in the incredible modulation of her voice and the command of her body. Physically and mentally agile, she dances around both the space and text with a dexterity that is mesmerising – not just speaking the monologue to the dark space ahead of her but unafraid to lock eyes with the audience and say “see me”, something that shows both strength and vulnerability. Tanji’s development of Femi through her actions and of those around her, is enriched by the subtlety in which her emotions build and grow.
This visceral performance of a woman’s imperfect journey through grief feels like a labour of love. A fight that symbolises more than just one person’s struggle, it is a challenging and staggering play, and a story that leaves me with hope.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is now playing at Stratford East until Saturday 19 June. For more information and to book tickets, visit Theatre Royal Stratford East’s website.