The 14th Tale @ National Theatre, London

written and performed by
Inua Ellams

directed by
Thierry Lawson
The 14th Tale is a one man show, written and performed by Inua Ellams, which uses graphic art and words to tell the story of his coming of age.

Ellams tells his tale and that of his father and his father before him. He begins: “I’m from a long line of trouble makers. A line of ash skinned Africans, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle.”

The set is sparse with only a dusty stage, a chair and a giant monochrome mural, also created by Ellams, which give us visual clues to his life. Half graffiti, half graphic novel art it underlines the narrative of the piece and the key moments he believes have combined to make him who he is.
He paints a picture of his life through a series of incidents and trouble hes encountered since his birth in the hot dusty streets of Plateau State, Nigeria. We hear of his familys moves to London, then Dublin, then back to London as they followed his fathers work. He is the naughty boy at school who messed about and back chatted the teacher, skipping lessons with the other outsiders and playing pranks on other children. In these days of happy slapping and ASBOs, his youthful escapades seem very tame and a little quaint, something of a bygone era; making it a refreshing alternative to the usual gritty urban rites of passage piece. However this does mean the audiences sense of anticipation at the set up is never completely satisfied.

It is his talent for words keep your attention as well as his sparky and incredibly watchable performance. He has great poise and luminosity and you cannot help but smile and laugh along with him as he self-indulgently takes us through his pranks and first love. His humour does make the darker and more emotional parts of the story a little less convincing but overall the result is an enjoyable hour of theatre.

Beautiful descriptions and metaphors capture Ellams youthful exuberance and first love with a light touch. He plays with rhyme and metaphor to delight, flinging small sweetened lightening bolts between us like firework-flavoured mangoes.

Save a brief mention of his sister and his first loves women are conspicuous in their absence from the piece. This is about Ellams becoming the man of the family and growing up, but it feels a bit one dimensional in its scope at times as a result.

With the realisation that his father is becoming frail, he finds that he must take his place at the front of the line of trouble makers. Your time will come his father says throughout his ups and downs and it seems for Ellams this also applies to his work as an artist. For this twenty -something talent it seems this future is bright.

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