This time last year, poet, writer and performer Inua Ellams was at the Bristol Old Vic with his one-man show Black T-Shirt Collection (reviewed here). And now he’s returned, stepping out of sequence to bring us his very first play, The 14th Tale (from 2009).
But this disregard for chronology makes perfect sense, as The 14th Tale is an autobiographical piece about Inua’s teenage years, taking him from his Nigerian birth place to London and then to Dublin. The hour-long piece is bracketed by scenes of Inua in a hospital waiting room, anxious for news… and then we flash back to the scenes that led him to the waiting room.
The set is minimal – a cloth map hangs along the back wall of the Old Vic’s Basement space, and Inua is equipped with only a simple chair and a torch. His costume is a pair of trousers and a t-shirt, with what appear to be blood stains on them. And these are all the clues we have to go on, all the pieces we have to help us follow Inua on his teenage journey to the hospital waiting room.
What drives the narrative is Inua’s longing for a close relationship with his father, and of Inua’s desire to fit in with his peers in the culture shock of England. While these might not be new topics to uncover, Inua’s background as a poet clearly inspires his beautiful use of language. He expertly delivers lyrical monologues with an effortless but passionate drive, never once slipping up or faltering in his performance.
The 14th Tale is part of Fuel Fest at Bristol Old Vic, which is a series of three shows running until March 23. Click here for more information.