This new solo show from Inua Ellams sees him develop both as a writer and a performer.
Inua Ellams in Black T-Shirt Collection at the Cottesloe Theatre, National, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Nigerian foster brothers Muhammed and Matthew set up a business together selling T-shirts. One is more artistic in temperament, while the other has the entrepreneurial touch. From small beginnings, their success spreads quickly and soon they are hopping countries, continents, from Cairo to London to the Chinese factories in which their T-shirts are produced in bulk, but at considerable human cost.
While the richness of the language is perhaps less striking than in his first work - the Fringe First-winning The 14th Tale, which was also eventually staged by the National - Ellams’ performance style has evolved. Ever adept at sketching character through words, he now more clearly marks out his large cast through performance, though there is some initial haziness in the beginning as to who is who until the particular rhythms and music of Ellams’ style take hold. Though the piece is also more ambitious in scope than his earlier work - with a sweeping, yet almost classical narrative arc - it wears it lightly, and there’s an admirable ease with which the global and familial intermix.
Thierry Lawson’s production is one of simple elegance, with graphics projected on to a black background, adding shape to what could be - and sometimes still is - a somewhat static piece. In some ways the production highlights both the strengths and limitations of this particular kind of theatre, but it is never less than thought provoking and leaves its audience with some vivid, lingering imagery.