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The 14th Tale By Inua Ellams

Inua EllamsWhen was the last time you went to the theatre and got a full course meal, served up with words and nothing but words?

“I come from a long line of trouble makers.” If there is a line I know I will not forget in a long time, it is these very words spoken by Ellams, both shocking and funny, it sure got the audience to sit up and listen. These are words I had heard before I went to see the play, so I was keen to see how people would react. True to the desired effect, they laughed and I saw some people look at each other, wondering what was coming next.

The 14th tale is described as a poetic drama and that is certainly true of this vivid and concise use of words to conjure up images and actions on the audiences Mind. Written and performed by Inua Ellams, it is a free-flowing narrative which gives us insight into his life from his early days in Nigeria to his welcome party in England when he first realised that teachers don’t have canes and so, they don’t flog. An excitement I know too well and can relate to because that is one of the biggest culture shock I got when I first came to the UK, the fact that students can talk back to their teachers and not get a ‘hot dirty slap on their face, woza style.’ You would not dare talk back to your teachers in Nigeria, your parents may well come and pick your bones.

Ellams is a master storyteller who makes great use of his words and body to get his message across and the descriptions are so powerful, I could see scenes in my mind as he narrated his story. From his mischievous days in a Nigerian boarding school to his days in a Dublin School when the act of taking a piss is more exciting than being in class. You have to commend his ability to hold the attention of the audience with nothing but his words. The only set of props you see on stage is a chair and torchlight. The piece is laced with humour from beginning to end and when it becomes emotionally engaging, it is gets your attention too.

Ellams knows how to make his words sing, dance, and laugh and oh hell, yes, his words know how to make love on the stage and stimulate your mind. His ability to physicalise the actions his words convey is what I believe carries this poetic drama home. This is what gives it the edge to anyone person just standing on a stage and reciting a poem. This is what makes The 14th Tale stand out. Ellams can get his body to take on the different personalities of his characters, from his Sunday school teacher in Jos, Nigeria to his boarding school headmaster who decided to give him a chase into the bush. When he tells his experience of falling in love, you cannot help but laugh. And when he is rejected, his quest and hunger for vengeance is humorous in a brilliant way that makes his act of vengeance seem like a comedy sketch. It is interesting how light became symbolic ion stage, when you see the bright and yellowish light, you know this is Africa and when you see the rather sombre light, you know you are in the West, winter’s own wonderland, though Ellams never mentions the word weather. Within this madness of his, his relationship with his father stands out as something Ellams respects, adores and cherishes. The 14th Tale is a beautiful dance of words on stage.

The 14th Tale is at the national Theatre, London until March 13

Image: Ed Collier

For a slice of the action, watch Ellams in action in this short excerpt.


One Response to “The 14th Tale By Inua Ellams”

  1. enisio says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I absolutely love one-man shows. It is just amazing to see how other aspects such as light, and physicality become additional characters.

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