Changing Destiny at the Young Vic
Written by Ben Okri and adapted by artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, Changing Destiny is a confident production but one that leaves more questions than answers.
Young British actors Joan Iyiola and Ashley Zhangazha star as the body and soul of Sinuhe, an Egyptian warrior. Their roles are determined through a game of rock, paper, scissors – breaking the fourth wall usually found in theatre. Okri’s text is based on a 4,000-year-old Egyptian poem titled Sinuhe and depicts the tale of an official who leaves Egypt after hearing of a conspiracy to assassinate the pharaoh.
The striking stage design, by celebrated architect Sir David Adjaye, emboldens the production, with two pyramids upended in the air, tips pointing downwards. Haunting wailing echoes in the background while the two cast members choose their props from boxes. The choice of music is also commendable as it is heavily influenced by the culture of the land. The drama deals with themes of war, exile and identity, but due to the role of the character being played by both actors, the adaptation isn’t as clear as one would have liked. The warrior flees to Retenu – the ancient name for Syria – and Libya too, where he meets several characters (also portrayed by the duo) partaking in battles, though the allure and mystery of Egypt continually draw him back.
In the final scenes, Sinuhe aims a thought-provoking question towards the audience – “where is your spirit?” – inviting viewers to ponder on the idea of home and belonging. Although Iyiola and Zhangazha both give strong performances, Changing Destiny does not do justice to their talent. One expects more from the acclaimed writer but ultimately the production falls flat. The audience’s attention wanes throughout the drama and it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Given that this is an ancient text brought to life, the anticipation is for a far grander result, but what the show delivers is plain and rather forgettable.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Changing Destiny is at the Young Vic from 24th July until 21st August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.