Friday 23 February 2018

Dublin Theatre Festival: Review - The 14th Tale Project Cube

John McKeown

"I'm from a long line of troublemakers, of ash-skinned Africans, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle, only quenched by breast milk." It's a stirring, if lop-sided battle-cry from Inua Ellams (pictured), the narrator of this autobiographical monologue, and it's wildly inaccurate.

He's actually from a long line of practical jokers, that most obnoxious breed of humourist. And while festooning the school bully's sleeping face with toothpaste may count as richly deserved revenge, breaking into your girlfriend's flat and putting red paint in her shower-head, because she prefers someone else, is worthy of a jail sentence.

As for the clenched fists, it's difficult to see, with such a comfortable upbringing, what Ellams had to rebel against. He's on top of things at his Nigerian boarding school, and has no problem fitting in when his Father gets a job in London. Dublin also takes him to its fickle heart. Still, if he was as personable as a youth as he is a performer, it's easy to understand why. He has an easy-going scampish charm, though being tickled so much by your own material isn't advisable.

There's a serious side to the story too. Ellams is narrating from a hospital waiting room, his clothes stained with that red paint, which only news of his father's stroke has prevented from staining the unfortunate girlfriend's body. Realisation of his father's mortality, that he is "just a man," has a dampening effect on Ellams' penchant for noxious pranks. It's a kind of epiphany in which he descries "a vague order to things" and which is very evocatively painted.

Ellam's narrative is a somewhat awkward mix of crudity and lyricism. Thierry Lawson's production is over-reliant on the ethnic music, which introduces the piece, thumpingly ad infinitum, and punctuates it much too often.

Irish Independent

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