The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English is the newest play in the intimate Bush Studio space, directed by Ewa Dina.
From the moment you are sat, there is an awareness that the boundaries of the usual theatre expectations will be pushed. This performance is a ‘relaxed’ one, where we are encouraged to respond as needed. And respond we do – with the continuous and humorous use of call and response, audience interaction is interspersed throughout the performance. You are not simply a viewer, you become a member of the ensemble. Writer-actor Tania Nwachukwu draws the audience in, traversing centuries and countries in her confident hour-long performance.
Despite it being a one-woman show, Nwachukwu does not conduct this staging alone. Before she enters, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers (also dressed entirely in white), begins a musical showcase, using traditional instruments (primarily the talking drum), her voice, and an impressive employment of the loop pedal to produce a live musical experience. The sound design (Bella Kear) throughout the performance was admirable, and it was a particular highlight to watch the ancestral merge with the modern, continuing the trend of liminality we see with the time and the setting. The music, accentuated by the soft glows from the lighting (Laura Howard) ranging from deep purples to natural greens to glowing yellows, creates a well-rounded visual experience. I was also particularly impressed with the set design, a cross between a modern flat and a natural environment, connecting the interior to the external.
At first, we have the talking drum, then in sweeps the 21st century, complete with overwhelming phone and laptop notifications from Tasha, an early twenty-something member of the Nigerian diaspora living in Watford. She bemoans being unable to communicate with her grandmother fluently in a language they share. Within her monologues on the difficulty of keeping her house plants alive, her exhaustion with work, and her worries about her grandmother, we also receive a folklore tale, taking us back to the time of the Eze people. What connects these two narratives are concerns about community, and how to keep these links alive when residing away from the home of your ancestors.
The play is also about loss, about the literal and familial, and the cultural, of the loss of language, a shared way of communicating, of idioms and jokes that can only exist within a specific cultural context. While this could have been developed further for emotional gravity, the play remained affecting and conscientious within its hour-long run-time. “A silent tongue is a dead tongue”, Nwachukwu says, but in The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English her voice rings loud and clear in both Igbo and English.
The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English runs at the Bush Theatre, London until 17th December 2022