Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The 14th Tale, National Theatre

Review: The 14th Tale, National Theatre

Published in Time Out, 18.02.2010

Behind the bikeshed of a London school, four names streaked in schoolboy piss testify to truancy. On the evidence of The 14th Tale, such is Inua Ellams’s way with words that his particular tag must have stood out as much for its artistry as its exoticism.

Delivered in a voice as sonorous as a steel drum, Ellams’s poetry is smooth enough to melt in the ear, yet packed full of snap, crackle and pop. Accompanied by a fluid but simple movement score, his words conjure vivid cartoonish images imbued with both atmosphere and detail.

The latest in “a long line of troublemakers,” The 14th Tale recalls a string of mischievous antics and sets them up as formative. There’s the revenge taken on a school bully using a tube of toothpaste and a pack of pins. There’s the cheating ex-girlfriend’s shower-head unscrewed and filled with paint. And, of course, there’s the doodling with his doodle.

We’ve all got stories of misdemeanours past, but Ellams’ are elevated above romanticised nostalgia by their underlying focus on immigration. Born in Nigeria, he moved to England with his father aged twelve before relocating briefly to Dublin (“a world more alien than London”). These then – though they never overstress the fact or preach – are tales of insiders, outsiders and ingratiation, of culture-shocks and commonality.

What really makes The 14th Tale, however, is the winning likeability of Ellams himself. He has a wry smile and generous helpings of charm, wit and pluck: critical assets for performance poets and troublemakers alike.

Photograph: Inua Ellams/FUEL

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