Plant Fetish is an emotional rollercoaster of a play created and performed by Chanje Kunda. It is part of HOME’s new theatre season called PUSH Festival.
Kunda collaborated with faculty members of University of Central Lancaster, who are researching mental health conditions within the BAME community and arts sector, for this one-woman-show about her complex PTSD. In the play, she candidly narrates her life story, recounting to the audience her many failed attempts at dating, with explicit sexual references, and her experiences with public mental health services. She also criticises social media and its negative effects on her mental wellbeing. She does not attempt to tell a comprehensive narrative about women and race, but only to tell her own story that is inherently informed by these important themes.
The provocative title is inspired by a true story of a group of women in South America who married trees as an environmental act and a feminist protest against the way women’s status is often defined by their marital status. Kunda was inspired by these women to embrace her own power and independence. Though she admits to being broken, she is hopeful and believes that things that have been broken and put back together can become even more beautiful.
Plant Fetish is based in Manchester, and places in the city are often referenced, such as the Whitworth Museum, the Aquatics centre, and the Shack in the Northern Quarter.
The design elements of this one-woman-show establish an enlivening mood that suited its optimistic theme. The theatre was small, and the stage was set on the ground level and decorated like a home-like living room. A diverse set of convincing plants was placed all over the stage, a snug red sofa was situated in the centre, and a beautiful display of flower garlands were hung on the background. The stage allowed the audience to feel close to the performer, as if she had invited everybody to her house to tell them a story.
This relaxed atmosphere was emphasised by Kunda’s costume. For most of the performance, she was barefoot and wore simple lounge wear, with a green floral dressing gown to blend in with her green environment. The only visible make-up she had was green eyeshadow, which matched her green finger nails and toe nails. In the final scene, she put on an African crown and neck jewellery to celebrate her heritage.
Most of the props contributed to the development of the plot in some way, for example, a wine pitcher and glass related to her dependency on wine as a result of her mental illness. For most of the performance, before the climatic ending, Kunda sat on the same spot on the sofa while narrating her story.
The background music was ambient and relaxing, and no sound effects were used. The set design never changed during the performance, but the variation in lighting actively contributed to Kunda’s storytelling. The lighting was strong or faint depending on the setting or tone, often changed colours to illustrate the protagonist’s mental landscape, and drew attention to important props. In one particularly powerful scene, fairy lights lit up in the background to symbolise stars in the beautiful African desert.
The production’s only flaw was having too many plants onstage. Towards the end, Kunda stood up to dance provocatively in front of her plants. However, there were so many plants onstage that it hindered her movement, adding awkwardness to her brilliant dance number.
This revealing show about mental health in the modern world ran at HOME Theatre from 27 November to 30 November.