The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Called 'the Canadian arts surprise of the year' by The Globe and Mail, Cardinal's brilliant play, The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It, offers us the unvarnished truth of the state of the reconciliation process between Indigenous communities and colonial settlers in Canada. When the curtains rise, you can be certain that it’s Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it before and certainly never will again.

Those who are walking into The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It without any preconceived notions, are sure to be clutching their pearls within the first fifteen minutes. After some of my quick research to gain an understanding of what to expect at Cliff Cardinal’s retelling, all descriptions seemed to be similar and quite cryptic - so I allowed myself to be surprised. And what a treat it was.

In London’s Southbank Centre for only five nights, The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It is a thought provoking play that will leave the audience grasping for answers from beginning to end.

As the audience was seated and the lights were dimming, we heard the faint tweeting of birds and other fantastical forest noises. One might be prompted to believe that the curtains will open to a decorated stage, intricate costuming and a familiar story. What Cardinal creates on stage is much grander than that.

Cliff Cardinal steps out onto the stage in his modern garb and begins to talk about the inspiration behind his show, where it began in Canada, and gives the audience background information about Land Acknowledgements. He does this by using bouts of comedy and whimsy to keep an otherwise daunting topic, feeling light. Cardinal uses this stand-up approach throughout the show, ensuring that after the first few minutes, the audience is well aware that this is like no Shakespeare they have seen before. And in fact, what we have all gathered for this evening, is Cardinal’s personal land acknowledgement. Over the remainder of the evening, Cardinal weaves dark humour and punch lines through the story of Canadian land acknowledgements, anecdotes of Indigenous family members, and the realities that Indian families have been forced to reckon with for over 400 years.

Not only does Cardinal speak to the past and the demons that Indigenous people have been handed, he also steers the conversation towards the future. He discusses misconceptions and comparisons surrounding indigenous communities, and what these implications could mean for humanity.

The simplicity and minimalism of the staging, and the approach that Cardinal brings to the audience, forces the viewer to stand face to face with the truths that Cardinal is bringing to the surface. He delivers a show that brought hesitant laughter, pursed lips, groans, and gasps - all in a mere 90 minutes.

This radical bait-and-switch retelling of Shakespeare will have viewers loosening their grips on their pearls at the end of the show, and walking out with newly shaped perspectives. I would really recommend this show to those who are willing to walk away from the theatre feeling challenged. Cardinal’s delivery is raw, emotional, and honest like nothing you have ever seen on stage.

You can book tickets to see The Land Acknowledgment, or As You Like It, here.

Review by Miranda

**photo credit: Dahlia Katz**

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