“I’m from a long line of trouble makers. A line of ash skinned Africans, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle.” So begins Inua Ellams’ one-man show, The 14th Tale, currently playing at the Bristol Old Vic as part of Fuelfest 2013. Commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre and presented by Fuel Theatre, Ellams has been touring The14th Tale on and off for a few years now receiving critical acclaim up and down the country.
Narrating the formative years of his life, this autobiographical play demonstrates in fine style the multi-faceted capabilities of Ellams as a poet, playwright and performer. Strung together as a series of flashbacks that span a turbulent adolescence, the play begins by depicting boyhood pranks in his birthplace of Nigeria before focusing on his family’s relocation to Europe in the late 90s.
Drawing upon a rich tapestry of language, evocative scenes are described with incredible clarity and populated by a cast of characters through the use of charming accents and mannerisms. Minimalist in its production, a single chair is Ellams’ only prop although the sheer physicality of his performance successfully invites the imagination to fill in the rest. Nigerian drums and subtle ambient noise are effectively utilised throughout the show to add further flavour to sequences, while a deft use of lighting bookmarks scenes and provides the punch line to Ellams’ youthful exploits.
Spliced between humorous anecdotes that detail new friendships and flourishing young love, an intriguing central story line intermittently spans the hour long play. In these interludes, brief enigmatic snippets gradually reveal a hospital waiting room where Ellams desperately seeks information on an unknown patient. At the culmination of the play, all becomes clear in an emotional final scene where the mysterious patient is revealed. This climatic event ultimately serves as the catalyst for Ellams’ successful transition into adulthood allowing him to assume a rightful place in his family’s ancestral lineage. The delicate manner in which this rite of passage is conveyed is brilliant, linking cleverly with the opening scene and the play’s final line resonated long after the applause had died down.
Captivating in its content, this eloquent raconteur spun an intricate tale that had the audience hooked from beginning to end. The 14th Tale continues until the 22nd March so get yourself to the Bristol Old Vic and check out this truly extraordinary show before it leaves town. You won’t be disappointed.