d’bi young anitafrika creates an intense experience in Bloodclaat, on stage in Toronto
There were only 14 people in the audience the night I saw Bloodclaat at The Watah Theatre, and that means a great many people are missing out on the power and brilliance of d’bi young anitafrika and this show.
Don’t be one of them. Even (or especially) if you’re not sure you have it in you for a difficult show, even (or especially) if you have no clear sense of what to expect: this is so worth seeing.
Entering the theatre is like entering a sanctified room in any space of worship. At one end of the room there is a giant red draped vulva, lit with votive candles. The floor is crossed with a red river of blood, flowing out from the vulva, passing two altars as it flows toward a wash basin.
The set gives the themes of the work: Menstruation as part of having a body, as a force, as a power; shamed, hidden, washed away and celebrated. Mudgu Sankofa—the central character—emerges from this vulva at the beginning, and follows the river of blood, gathering it up to wash it away. It’s reverent.
d’bi young anitafrika contains multitudes, and plays all of the characters, real and mythological. Each character moves differently, has a different voice and is clearly distinguished. In scenes where she plays three characters you always know who is who, as she easily becomes the daughter, the mother, the grandmother, the boyfriend, the aunt, and others.
She does a remarkable job at telling the story of the main character, Mudgu, surviving incest. She displays the details with no hint of prurience, and in a way that allows the audience to see the trauma of the experience without being (re)traumatized in the process. In the talk-back after the show, when d’bi young anitafrika emerges from all the characters—puts on her glasses and invites questions—the audience is invited into the work in a singular way.
Midway through the show, she looked right into my face, at a distance of about a foot and in the character of Nanny, Queen of the Maroons, and said “Make good use of the fire power within you.” It felt like a blessing, an invocation, and an order all in one. A surprising amount of the show is spoken directly to members of the audience, or asked of them, and it works.
anitafrika describes the theme of this season at Watah Theatre—of which she is founder and Artistic Director—as Blk Bx. She is stripping things bare, and this intimate performance has so benefited from this treatment.
It’s important to note that this is not just a remount, but a revisiting. Bloodclaat has been performed on much larger stages as part of regular seasons at both Tarragon and Theatre Passe Muraille, and it’s travelled across Canada and internationally.
This show is different, and contains new elements. The intimacy of it allows for new things to be revealed. If you’ve never seen it before, go. If you’ve seen it before, go back.
- Bloodclaat plays at The Watah Theatre (9 Trinity Street, Unit 317) until 20 November.
- Performance are Wednesday through Saturday at 7pm, with 2pm matinees on Wednesday and Sunday.
- Ticket price is $30, with Pay What You Can days on Wednesday (both performances) and are available online or at the door.
- Note that the theatre is a bit difficult to find since Distillery District buildings are not well marked/signed – it’s the door beside Vom Fass.
Photo of d’bi young anitafrika by Dee Kofri