Being a huge Inua Ellams fan, I was over the moon to find out that he had a new show coming to Birmingham. After seeing his game-changing piece, ‘The Barber Shop Chronicles’, at the National Theatre last year, I was intrigued to witness his genius first-hand again. The show begins with some great African music to get you in the mood and to set the scene. As the wonderful cast, Rakie Ayola and Kwami Odoom, set the scene for us, we begin to learn of the conflicts between the Yoruba and Greek Gods, as Ellams challenges our assumptions about the legends we learn about in school and the one that we do not. This epic tale of love, pain, exploitation and violence was definitely not what I was expecting… in a good way. If you’re a Greek mythology and legend buff, this show is the perfect piece to challenge your knowledge and bring something new to the table. Growing up in the West, I had never even heard of the Yoruba Gods before, and during the performance I found myself questioning why I had never bothered to look into it, and why I assumed that Greek legends and West African legends were mutually exclusive.
The stripped-down set allows Ayola and Odoom to create the most magnificently vivid images in our minds, making us use our often-neglected imagination to see the worlds that Ellams so beautifully creates. At one point in the piece, we even travel to the furthest limits of outer-space and back, reminding us of our insignificance and how unimportant our small squabbles and rivalries are. In a world where it is all too easy to get caught up in the magic that is modern technology, and the capitalist consumerist ideology that can often become overwhelming, the space travel in this piece and what it shows us is rather refreshing.
Despite the multitude of characters in the piece – all of which we get to know – the two actors onstage manage to make multi-roling look like child’s play. Odoom is enthralling to watch and comical at all the right times, while Ayola is spell-binding, particularly as Modupe, as her characters’ pain and suffering come to a climax at the end of the performance. Ellams’ poetic prose is a joy to witness, and his writing cleverly critiques the long-standing gender and racial inequalities that have been continuing for too long in our world. Ellams’ cleverly parallels the tensions and battles between the Gods with our own history between the West and Africa. Exploitation and abuse of the African continent is something that still remains a huge part of our history in the UK and beyond, and confronting it head-on, as Modupe does, is the only way to move forward and create a better future for our children.
‘The Half God of Rainfall’ is on at the Birmingham REP until 20th April and then moves to the Kiln Theatre, London from 25th April – 17th May.