sun 29/01/2023

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, Bush Studio review - an engaging debut | reviews, news & interviews

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, Bush Studio review - an engaging debut

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, Bush Studio review - an engaging debut

Tania Nwachukwu creates a warm hour of music and memories with hidden bite

Joyous presence Tania Nwachukwe with musician Francesca Ameduwah-RiversAli Wright

The Bush studio space is proving a fruitful launch pad, not just for new writing but for new performers.

It previously showcased actor-writer-musician Anoushka Lucas’s multiple skills in her exciting debut piece Elephant; next up is the similarly multi-skilled Tania Nwachukwu, with The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, an engaging playlet about her struggles with a split identity.

It’s a deceptively simple 60 minutes, in which Nwachukwu, as London-born Watford resident Tasha, has her talk directly to the audience about her life and concerns, while relating a folktale about Eze in Nigeria that weaves in and out of the narrative (main picture). Eze is the Nigerian village Tasha’s Igbo family are from. The pride of Eze was its kola nut tree, said to be a repository of local memories. Break off a twig, hold it to your ear and you would hear your ancestors laughing. 

Tasha, alas, has only a mobile phone and a laptop constantly bleeping with alerts for staying in touch with her parents, who have returned to Nigeria but are due to visit soon. They must bring her grandmother, whose health is worsening, to see British doctors, Tasha’s father had decided. The old lady is Tasha’s connection to her family’s roots, an Igbo speaker who has left her granddaughter with a smattering of vocabulary. But sadly, Tasha can’t converse with her properly, her tongue is tied.

Francesca Ameduwah-RiversThe kola nut tree story is of direct significance to Tasha personally, and to her sad spider plant, which she is too stressed and possibly incompetent to keep healthy. In the folktale, as the younger villagers seek adventure and leave for obodo igbo, the big city, the kola tree starts to ail and droop. Advised by a local elder, the villagers try various remedies for reviving it — singing and dancing in front of it, telling it their memories — and the tree starts to improve, though not completely.

Tasha remembers that her grandmother, who was renowned in her area for her green fingers, also used to sing to her plants to keep them flourishing. So Tasha tries her own remedy on the spider plant, unleashing her rendition of Let Me Love You on it, with comically exaggerated dance moves, the audience singing along to the chorus. 

The audience are part of Nwachukwu’s “village” from the outset. When Tasha adopts the role and portentously dramatic tones of a storyteller, our job is to do call-and-response duties, adding words at the end of a line: “Once upon a time”… “Time, time.” One lucky man was tasked with holding the pot plant; and as a coda, she chose audience members to help create sample sounds for a loop system to turn into our exit music. It’s a lovely use of this intimate space, which at times has the air of a standup gig.

The piece is a fine introduction to her performing skills, in particular, not forgetting her onstage musician, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers  (pictured above right), who drums, sings and samples phrases for loops of increasingly complex rhythmic patterns and a cappella harmonies. But Tasha’s underlying issue isn’t easily resolved by dancing and singing, any more than that was a cure for the ailing kola tree. She confesses she struggles now to call Britain home, somewhere she can feel the peace of knowing who she is. It has given her her “tongue”, but there is another, older one, Igbo, that she can’t speak; now it is dying out, even in Nigeria. And her habit of holding her tongue, she has realised, is no longer possible. The rage inside is looking for a voice.

Nwachukwu is a joyous presence, warm and funny, so when she finally announces that she feels this mounting rage, it’s something of a shock as the hour has mostly been moving along on a comic track. At moments when she has raised painful subjects such as the recent Windrush deportees scandal and the revoking of Shamima Begum’s passport, Tasha has shied away from them and switched to less difficult topics. Nwachukwu, though, could usefully have found a way to dig deeper into them, to give the piece more overt grit. It’s as if her big-hearted desire to entertain and communicate has made her defer the enraging stuff for another time. It will be something to look forward to.

The audience are part of Nwachukwu’s “village” from the outset. Our role is to do call-and response duties, and hold her pot plant

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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