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REVIEW: William Kentridge, The Head & The Load

FASCINATING: William Kentridge’s The Head & The Load

HOW MUCH do you know about Africa’s involvement in World War One? I can truthly and rather ashamedly say not much.

To be fair that isn’t entirely my fault. After all the inspiring stories of African carriers and porters who fought in a war that wasn’t there’s, asked to have human compassion at a time when treated like animals and died often undocumented and even graveless – is not a story often told when discussing the World Wars in our history lessons.

One production exploring that to the fullest however is William Kentridge’s The Head & The Load - a mass production of art, theatre, dance and music, telling a compelling an often untold story about the largely hidden role played by Africans in the war’s spill over to the continent.

The colossal 70 minute production is a lot to take in, as you find your eyes darting from left to right, keen not to miss a hint of symbolism, expression or movement which plays out so beautifully on the stage.

The Head & The Load is split into three acts – Act 1: Manifestos, Act 2: Paradox and Act 3: War. Each act is marked by various components of shadow play, sculpture, song and dance to convey the strenuous and life-threatening journeys made by 1.3 million Africans as porters and carriers for the British, French and German forces.

The production is marked largely by the intense physicality of it all. From Act 3’s ‘Running’ scene which depict the Africans experiencing the perils of war as they run emphatically in a beautifully choreographed and chaotic piece, to musical production which threads seamlessly throughout.

The diverse cast and cacophony of languages – including various African languages, English, French and German — add to the swirl of action which capture the chaotic and frantic reality of war, particularly for those - and I quote - “who have come to die”.

William Kentridge is a multi-talented political artist – there’s no doubt about that. But understandably, there were some initial reservations about a cisgender white male telling such a story. However Kentridge alongside his team really pushed back against the narrative we’re told of the World Wars and beautifully brings voices to the voiceless.

The Head & The Load - which is currently taking place at Tate Modern - is sold out, but it’s definitely worth checking out once available to view online. Action, historical accuracy, food for thought and entertainment all collide to make one epic kaleidoscopic masterpiece.

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