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By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson


Wednesday, March 10, 2010.


The scene is set with an Afrobeat soundtrack, the stage layered with white dust, a solitary chair and Ellams’ own stream of consciousness serves as graphic art backdrop - mirroring his own eclectic thoughts and performance. 


But why is his T-shirt bloodstained? Why is he in hospital and what has caused his introspection? It’s all very intriguing at The National’s intimate Cottesloe Theatre. The answers cascade from several disparate voices in a free flowing torrent of prose. Between the enigmatic start of a fraught hospital scene and a dénouement revealing why he’s there, Ellams’ autobiographical story zigzags and criss-crosses time and place.


Poignant in some places, comical and delightful in others, he takes us on a journey to across two continents and three Countries – Dublin (Ireland), London (England) and Nigeria. Emerging from the narratives are episodic stories of his birth and childhood, linking his adolescence and school misadventures.


Deftly adopting the characters in whose voice he speaks, Ellams tells the story well; his grandparents, his father, family, school friends, hilarious corporal punishment administering Nigerian teachers, and school mates with different accents.


The ash-skinned playwright and actor is not afraid to use the stage, and with quiet authority and charisma he also knows how to deliver a tale. Directed by Thierry Lawson, with discrete lighting by Michael Nabarro, the bespectacled 28-year-old Ellams captivates his audience. Many in the audience laugh out loud, their responses punctuating hilariously described escapades and elegant turns of phrase.


His words are complex couplets and carefully crafted sentences. They are not restricted by labels of poetry, story-telling, spoken word, or performance poetry. A more accurate description would be a fusion of the story-telling skills of a Paul Keens Douglas with the spoken graphics of the early Last Poets.


All becomes clear as his hospital visit is revealed as a visit to his ill father.  His bloodstained T-shirt is the result of a jealousy fuelled, revenge-seeking caper targeting unrequited love. 


The 14th Tale he enacted has just enough dramatic tension, and suspense to sustain the 55-minute show. It's Ellams’ warm personality, and enthralling language, poetic metaphors and expressive gestures, which supersede any weakness in content and substance.



Written By Inua Ellams

The Cottesloe

The National Theatre

Until 13 March


THE 14TH TALE is a BAC Scratch Commission with Apples & Snakes. A London World Festival Commission, funded by Arts Council England.


Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

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