Amazônia

Colin Teevan and Paul Heritage
Young Vic
(2008)

It might sound a strange thing to say about a Christmas show directed at a family audience but Amazônia is too entertaining. What should be a simple morality tale about the destruction of the Brazilian rainforests tries to do so many different things that it eventually loses its way.

After a slow start, it takes on the mantle of South American magic realism when Daniel Cerqueira appears as the ghost of Chico Mendes, literally a martyr to the ecological cause.

He arrives at an isolated town in a state of flux. As the festa is about to start, the boss's bull won't dance and thereby threatens the future of its habitat.

At the same time, leader Antonio (Jeffery Kissoon) is desperately trying to marry off his headstrong daughter, Daisy Lewis as Rosamaria.

In another plot line, the bull's keeper and friend Francisco, the ever-lively Simon Trinder, is struggling to keep his pregnant wife Golda Rosheuval's Catarina happy and well fed, at risk to his own life and limb.

Ignoring minor byways, the final strand is the return from university of Chris New playing Antonio's nephew Ricardo. He represents a corporate future of wealth, pollution and global warming and as such is the antithesis of his traditional relation.

All of this interplays with writer/director Paul Heritage's desire to ensure that all tastes will have a good time. Inter alia, he tries a three-piece band playing lively music from the region, colourful costumes, acrobatics around a large, stylised tree and some great water-borne comedy soaking delighted kids in the front row.

As if that was not enough, we are also treated to Shakespearean allusions galore, a truly gory Sarah Kane moment and some cute monsters and animals.

Any of these parts is valid and eye-opening in its own right but when put together for 2¼ manic hours the whole becomes as indigestible as the turkeys that will soon lose their lives by the million in the name of religious tradition.

There are however some special moments to savour. These include a surprisingly erotic dance between young Rosamaria and a dripping Adonis from the deep and some kooky clowning from Simon Trinder.

If Amazônia inspires children and adults to learn about the destruction of the rainforests and, for all we know, soon afterwards the planet, it will have achieved a great deal.

Some might also be dazzled by the variety of entertainments on show but with greater clarity and simplicity, not only would the message have been more powerful but the show would have benefited.

Playing until 24 January

Philip Fisher