Tag Archives: Jude Akuwudike

“House of Ife” at the Bush Theatre

Given its subject matter, Beru Tessema’s debut play is remarkably enjoyable. An estranged family struggling with the death of the titular character through drug addiction sounds grim. But Tessema’s confident comedy skills add well-placed lighter touches. And an exciting ear for dialogue gives this straightforward domestic drama its own originality.

This is a family with secrets, that’s haunted by grief, but the strong bonds between its members are the focus. Establishing a trio of bickering siblings is well done from the start – and great fun. Taking the lead is an adorable younger brother, Yosi, whose performance by Michael Workeye is the standout for the whole show.

Michael Workeye in House of Ife at the Bush Theatre
Michael Workeye

The deceased Ife’s sisters show us different sides of grief, and the performances by Yohanna Ephrem and Karla-Simone Spence make a good contrast. The parents bring yet more insight through their Ethiopian heritage and the father doing “God’s work” (while starting a new family) back in Addis Ababa. There are strong performances again, this time from Jude Akuwudike and Sarah Priddy.

With so much ground to cover – the family history and big issues – it might not be surprising that Tessema addresses topics thinly. Questions of belonging, of culture and of religion from five different perspectives are explored – but not that deeply. Ife’s addiction isn’t examined enough, leading to this pivotal offstage figure feeling sketchy.

Instead the show’s strengths come from comic observations and the tension between generations. Director Lynette Linton’s close work, with the steady flow of conversations between the parents, the children, and the whole family, are always engrossing. The pacing is excellent, with loud arguments and quiet reflection nicely balanced. An explosive final scene provides a worthy payoff for all the care and attention taken.

Until 11 June 2022


Photos by Marc Brenner

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Grateful as I am for the various shows put online during lockdown, this one made me sad! Of course, this was never the intention behind Barrie Rutter’s fine production, but it only serves the truth that filmed versions highlight how much better live theatre is and why we miss it so much.

Having seen the show ‘for real’ and being happy to watch it again indicates the strength of Rutter’s work. This is far from Shakespeare’s finest play: written with John Fletcher, the love-at-first-sight romance seems ludicrous, the characters schematic and the themes of honour silly. If it weren’t for beautiful poetic moments (and the fact he isn’t guiltless of all three problems elsewhere) you’d question whether Will had anything to do it.

There is still a grandeur behind Moyo Akandé and Jude Akuwudike, who play Hippolyta and Theseus, showing us courtly concerns with a touch of humanity. And Ellora Torchia does well as the princess who has to choose between the titular heroes – one of whom will die – showing an appropriate incredulity as well as sensitivity. Staying centre stage when the final fight goes on, this “maiden-hearted” bride-to-be proves fascinating. The kinsmen, played by Paul Stocker and Bryan Dick, are great – suitably dashing but also funny – with a similar knowing air behind the performances. But, on film, none of this talent is quite enough to make it all engaging.

The camera shows up all the text’s troubles. Stripped bare, without the atmosphere of the theatre, the play drags and all the work done to inject energy or touches of cynicism is lost. The excellent treatment of “country pastimes”, including a fantastic dance, sounded much better live and were full of details lost in the filming. One criticism stands: the unrequited love of the jailer’s daughter (Francesca Mills), which literally drives her mad, is played too much for laughs. And on a screen this poor version of Ophelia feels even colder and crueller.

The biggest problem is that, with the camera dictating what we see, a sense of momentum doesn’t come across. With characters “beyond love and beyond reason”, it’s necessary to drive the action along, which Rutter did with distractions including music and musicians. It made for an effective night out. Nobody wants our theatres open again more than those who work in them, and this show reminds us how much better it is to see plays where they belong.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 17 May 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” at Shakespeare’s Globe

This is Michelle Terry’s first season as artistic director on Bankside. And good luck to her. While she takes on Hamlet, and has programmed other big beasts, it’s notable and reassuring that there is new writing to come later in the summer, and the chance to see this less performed work, penned later in life by Shakespeare working with John Fletcher. Colourful and crowd pleasing, this production is an accessible and entertaining introduction to the piece.

Following the adventures and love rivalry between the titular cousins, Arcite and Palamon, as they battle for marriage to Emilia, is quite the tale, crazily combining courtly manners, ancient gods and plenty of characters who are literally mad for love. Director Barrie Rutter, of Northern Broadsides fame, has only worked at the Globe once before but shows a clear command of the space. There are strong costumes from Jessica Worrall and lots of music from Eliza Carthy. Any incongruous notes go to show how much Rutter wants to reach out and grab the audience’s attention, hence the story is clearly presented, the staging swift and the action exciting.

This is an actors’ production. Rutter makes a focal point of the performances, rather than any kind of concept or argument, and the result is relaxed and enjoyable. Right from the start there’s the stylish Jude Akuwudike as Theseus and Moyo Akandé as Hippoltya to impress, while Ellora Torchia plays their sister Emilia and excels with the plot’s incredulous moments – of which there are many. The play rests with the leading men, and Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker deservedly steal the show. They can both cut a dash as heroic figures making us (almost) believe in their desire to die to for love, while also enjoying their sudden rivalry.

It can be tricky to have fun with Shakespeare – some people get upset if you try. But here the jibes at valour and exaggerated love are so convincing there’s a case that Bard’s efforts with Fletcher have their own knowing irony. There’s still the suspicion that the piece wouldn’t be performed without Shakespeare’s name attached as the concerns and references are too arcane. But the production makes a strong case for the play, undaunted by its oddity and rooting itself in heady emotions that remain recognisable.

Until 30 June 2018