Reviews Published 8 June 2021

Review: The Sun, The Moon and the Stars

Stages of grief: Elete N-F reviews Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s narrative of mourning at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Elete N-F

Kibong Tanji in The Sun, The Moon and The Stars at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo: The Other Richard. Design: Peter McKintosh. Lighting design: Oliver Fenwick

The Sun, The Moon And The Stars is a monologue that takes us on a journey through mourning that is simultaneously a familiar narrative to the public and the most intimately harrowing tragedy that one woman has ever faced.

The show starts with Femi (Kibong Tanji)sitting on a chair, smoking: a sure sign we’re in for a tale. It isn’t initially clear where her anecdotes are headed; we dance around whatever it is that led Femi to the club to numb the pain of what she has been through, and indeed what has led her to be sat under a spotlight nursing a cigarette. Then the mood suddenly changes. A sharp, jarring switch: just like the killing of Seun, Femi’s twin brother.

The story of a Black woman mourning her relative, a victim of a racist hate crime, is not new. Parts of this play reflect what we have all seen in the news and on social media: families seeking answers, communities seeking justice. What we don’t see in the news, though, is each stage of their closest person mourning, avenging, and flitting between repressing and drowning in their death. There are iterations of this narrative throughout history, but Dipo Baruwa-Etti has carefully crafted The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars into something singular yet relatable.

With poetic lines and emotive outbursts, we go from the immediate aftermath of Seun’s death through to the trial and its eventual result. Seun’s death is made public but we have a different, personal perspective here, one that explores the limbo between an event and the so-called justice it meets with. Nadia Fall’s direction seamlessly takes us to the scene of each of Femi’s stages of grief, from falling out with her friends when they don’t share her fervent rage, to comically comparing their getting ready for court to attending a Burberry fashion show. Each of these moments is held by Oliver Fenwick’s lighting and Peter McKintosh’s stage design, with bold lights bouncing off the slashes in the walls, conspiring to set a new scene for the most violent and tender of Femi’s feelings.

Femi’s lighter, even amusing, moments are delivered as fiercely and honestly as when she is seeing red. These moments don’t take away from her anger, but Tanji and Baruwa-Etti work in tandem to convey that it’s not the sole emotion that Femi’s working through. As she waits for the outcome of Seun’s killers’ trial, Femi feels a compelling need to seek a more instant justice for her brother’s death and marches over to the assailant’s family home. To illustrate the intensity of the ire Femi wants to bring to this interaction, she makes a reference to a classic Eastenders revelation on her way to his house. The audience can be heard chuckling at this comic relief from a move driven by an impassioned vengeance.

Approaching a topic that is so close to the lives, hearts and minds of so many in London is no small undertaking, and Stratford East reopening their doors with this show serves as a reminder that these accounts belong on stage, too. While Femi and Seun’s story is the result of a racist hate crime, The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars should not be pigeonholed into serving as a lesson on race or justice. As in any tale of grief and loss, there is a personal side where anecdotes, memories and tender moments of solitude are woven into the anger, injustice and heartbreak. Tanji intensely carries each of these moments, rightly remaining under the spotlight for the whole show.

The Sun, The Moon and The Stars is on at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 19th June 2021. More info and tickets here

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Elete N-F

Elete N-F is London born and raised. Her degree in Spanish and Arabic lends itself to thinking about stories lost, told or floating between one place and another. Elete critiques and creates these stories through her work as a writer, languages teacher and translator.

Review: The Sun, The Moon and the Stars Show Info


Directed by Nadia Fall; movement director: Dannielle 'Rhimes' Lecointe; assistant director: Justina Kehinde

Written by Dipo Baruwa-Etti

Original Music Tingying Dong

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