The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English review – slow-bloom show full of familial love

Bush theatre, London
The conflicts of not fully knowing your family’s language are to the fore in writer and actor Tania Nwachukwu’s play

Plants are central to Tania Nwachukwu’s play about cultural displacement. Tasha (played by Nwachukwu) is a British Nigerian woman, overworked and overwhelmed by her life in north-west London, who is struggling to keep her greenery alive. For generations, Igbo women have had a history of growing plants: the gap between Tasha and her relatives feels expansive. But this production – an artistic expression of her isolation – doesn’t sting with enough force.

“I feel like my tongue fails me,” she says, talking about the distress of not being able to speak Igbo and communicate fluidly with her dying grandmother. I understand the frustration and guilt of not sharing a language with close relatives, too. However, the script is swollen out with filler material. There’s excessive talk of emails and a throwaway mention of Tasha’s big brother, but not enough interrogation of the sense of loss that not learning your family’s language can bring.

Directed by Ewa Dina, the narrative turns from Tasha’s bedroom ponderings to an old tale of Eze and the Kola Nut Tree. This endless switching may slow down the play’s progress but, anchored by dance, drum beats and songs that the audience are encouraged to join in with, it blossoms through the use of such storytelling techniques. Nwachukwu quickly changes between being the Storyteller and Tasha – an emotional dual performance that bridges Tasha’s ancestral history with her present day.

Your family’s roots are always in you, as The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English shows. And as we start to see this more visibly in the second half, the play begins to bloom. When her grandmother’s condition worsens, Tasha sings a powerful and rousing rendition of a song passed down to her by her parents. This play may not have a perfect structure, but it is powerful in conveying deep familial love on both a local and global scale.


Anya Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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