Strong ideas and intriguing verse make the quality of Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s new play easy to spot. Superb direction from Nadia Fall and a stunning performance from Kibong Tanji take the production close to five-star territory.
Tanji plays Femi, a young woman whose twin brother has been murdered in a racist attack. Baruwa-Etti writes viscerally about grief: it takes over the body, becoming something elemental, so big it is related to the celestial. This is powerful writing, but it’s the physicality Tanji brings to the role that is mind blowing. I’d put money on her having trained as a dancer.
The clever move is to relate how grief warps Femi’s mind. A desire for justice becomes consuming and violent fantasies isolate Femi from her friends. Achieving a balance between sympathy for the character and being afraid of her – as well as for her – is skilfully achieved.
a stage spectre to rival the best
Femi’s mental ill-health provides a further character for the play – the ghost of her brother. Here, all involved excel. Tanji depicts her character’s reactions to the ghost and slips effortlessly into embodying him as well. Fall injects fantastic tension, with the help of lighting and sound designers Oliver Fenwick and Tingying Dong respectively. And Baruwa-Etti has created a stage spectre to rival the best.
That Femi is haunted is a smart way to link the twins’ experience of racism, then Femi’s encounter with the criminal justice system, with questions of history. But her brother Sean’s ghost is individual enough to make a powerful drama about characters who are more than symbols for societal woes.
A benevolent, often calming presence, Sean provides support that leads to tender moments recalling the siblings’ childhood. He has instructions… and they aren’t always what his sister wants to hear. The suggestion that Sean also manipulates adds to his fascination. That her ghostly companion leads to the suggestion of Femi’s salvation is a conclusion that, although arriving abruptly, is inspiring.
Until 20 June 2021
Photo by The Other Richard