Chotto Xenos, available at www.eif.co.uk ***
When Akram Khan delivered his final solo, Xenos, in 2018 it conjured up feelings of despair, anguish, trauma. Hardly words you’d see stamped on the poster for a children’s show. So when Khan decided to re-imagine the work for families, he re-enlisted the help of young people’s theatre specialist Sue Buckmaster, who helped turn his previous work Desh into Chotto Desh.
Chotto Xenos opened in early 2020 and has since been filmed, now forming part of Edinburgh International Festival’s “At Home” digital programme.
It’s a film that, in some ways, falls between two stools – not quite family-friendly enough to hit that category head-on, yet not quite right for the adult market. Kennedy Junior Muntanga as the colonial soldier fighting in World War One is a very watchable performer. When he has steps to execute, he triumphs – ably slipping into Khan’s choreography, the fast spins, the shooting arms.
Much of Chotto Xenos is wordless theatre, though, and it’s not always obvious who he is or what he’s doing. A section where a gas mask becomes a puppet dog is truly charming, but whether there’s enough here to keep children hooked for 55 minutes is questionable.
Two moments really hit home, however, and clearly communicate the horrors of war. The first comes as Muntanga sits before a projected globe, reading the vast numbers of solders from India and Africa who fought in that conflict. The second, when Muntanga enters the trenches – his fear palpable, the action gripping.
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