Review: Changing Destiny at Young Vic ★★★★☆

Joan Iyiola. Photo: Marc Brenner

After a pandemic and the longest period of theatre closures in modern times, where should theatre re-start? The National Theatre looked to the past with Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The Young Vic have looked further, to a campfire in Egypt in the early 20th century BC and the tale of the Warrior King, Sinuhe, who flees Egypt and embarks upon an epic journey through North Africa.

Ben Okri’s adaption of the 4,000 year old story, with direction by Young Vic Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, begins with a simple game of rock, paper, scissors to decide which of our pair of actors will play Sinuhe.

Tonight Joan Iyiola plays Sinuhe and Ashley Zhangazha plays Sinuhe’s spirit, and all other characters. It is a big task to carry this epic tale on two sets of shoulders but it is managed with intense physicality by both performers who deliver two towering performances. Zhangazha is one moment a spirit, the next a tribal Sheikh, the next a Royal administrator – the illusion created with a small change of stance, or the removal or addition of a piece of clothing.

That physicality is the highlight of the production. It comes in battle, in herding cattle, in a dual, and is at it’s best in a tender moment with a simple brushing of arms.

Joan Iyiola and Ashley Zhangazha. Photo: Marc Brenner

This action happens in a stark but visually stunning set by Sir David Adjaye, with two stacked pyramids – one inverted – dominating the stage, with the lower pyramid unfolding to become the area for tonight’s proceedings.

It’s difficult to fit the finer details of on epic story into a runtime of just over an hour and there are times when more time could have been spent putting flesh to the bones of Sinhue’s story, particularly the middle section of the play set in Libya.

Similarly, the themes of immigration, identity and belonging are perhaps under-explored yet overstated by Okri’s script, however, the performances of Iyiola and Zhangazha minimise these flaws and delivers an important piece of theatre.

It’s good to be back.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Changing Destiny runs until 21 August and includes full capacity and socially distanced performances. Tickets are available now from the Young Vic.