BWW Review: BINTI'S JOURNEY at Black Theatre Workshop
Binti's Journey is an original play based off the novel The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis.
The play follows the story of a 13-year-old girl living in Malawi whose world is rocked by the sudden death of her father.
The play, adapted by Marcia Johnson, was produced by the Black Theatre Workshop as a touring production for area schools in honour of Black History Month. Despite the younger demographic audience, the play deals with some mature themes including, death, AIDS, unwanted pregnancy and abuse.
Still, the play finds it strength in the balance it creates between the light and dark elements, easily flitting between the sombre and the joyous as only a child's mind can. Binti starts off happy and carefree, a school girl with an acting part in a popular Malawian radio program. Everything changes when her father dies of AIDS and her siblings are split up and sent to live with abusive relatives.
Binti and her friend Memory are played by actual sisters Aiza and Dayane Nbitarikure. Aiza embodies the youthful charm and naivete of a 13-year-old girl teetering on the edge of grown-up anxieties. Dayane plays Memory, a new mother living with AIDS, whom she portrays with a great deal of presence and gravitas.
Jaa Smith-Johnson and Keren Roberts round out the four-person cast as Binti's two siblings: Kwasi and Junie. The two bring a lot of energy to the performance, each playing multiple characters with light-speed transitions. Smith-Johnson, Roberts and Dayane Nbitarikure all relative newcomers to the scene, having been participants in the Black Theatre Workshop's Artist Mentorship Program.
While not a musical, the show features a slew of acapella songs performed by the actors during transitions and peak emotional moments. The music provides a beautiful link to African culture and dance which integrates nicely into the fabric of the show.
The set and costume are simple-one imagines it must be packed and unpacked quickly as it is a touring production-but it's nonetheless effective at transporting the audience into the warm and distant climate of Malawi. A great big tree stands centre stage with its branches reaching widely out over the actors.
In all, the simple and powerful production offers a window into the experience of young people in Malawi; something Montreal students can both relate to and learn from.