(3 Nov 2012) Report of the play “The 14th Tale” by Inua Ellam

Newspaper reports:


Indian Express

The Poet of the Fall

Rohan Swamy Posted online: Sun Nov 04 2012, 03:43 hrs
At five, growing up in the clayey streets of Nigeria, Inua Ellams wanted to be a businessman just like his father. In his adolescent years, his dream was to become a comic book writer, graphic designer and then an athlete. However, in his late teens, a personal tragedy struck him and left an indelible mark on his persona. This prompted him towards the world of poetry, theatre and dramatic poetry.In Pune for a theatre performance of his award-winning semi-autobiographical piece, ‘The 14th Tale’ Ellams, who calls himself a ‘Word & Graphic Artist’, is at peace with how life finally has turned out for him. “It was the death of my friend Steven Devine, when I was 17. We used to both write poems about things that we liked but that was just a way to understand literature. However his death left so many questions unanswered. I began writing in the quest to hunt for them. And I am still doing that,” he says. Ellams’ performance was held at the St Mira’s College on Saturday by the British Council in collaboration with Expressions Unlimited and support from IISER and the Association of British Scholars.

Dressed in a blue t-shirt and denims, at the British Council Library on Fergusson College Road, Ellams doesn’t carry the stereotyped image of poets who have a very serious outlook towards life. But that is when he is not performing. On stage, his works deal with the problems faced by a Nigerian immigrant in the 90s. “Right from being chased by the nuns at school for questioning parts of the Bible, to eating lunch alone, because of the fact that I was dark-skinned, these problems were all there. In fact I had to give up the idea of becoming a visual artiste because once we moved to London from Dublin, we were unable to meet our expenses. Everything was very expensive. But all these things lit this fire within me,” he says.

The writing eventually took the form of ‘The 14th Tale’, which won him the prestigious Fringe First by the Scotsman at the Edinburgh Fringe. He says, “Immigrants from all across the world can find a common chord in it. The first whiff of the London air; the old city and its architecture merging with the new London and the melting pot of cultures along with the native ‘British Gentleman’—all this–– is the white side of the equation.” The dark side features problems that immigrants face. The 55-minute performance is about 80 per cent autobiographical and 20 per cent fiction.

However for all the twists and turns and the liberal doses of humour that ‘The 14th Tale’ offers, Ellams mentions that there was a time when he was completely disgusted with writing and wanted to get out of it but his view changed when the Battersea Arts Centre commissioned him to write ‘The 14th Tale’ and the British Council helped him to produce it. Originally, the monologue has been directed by Thierry Lawson for the stage. In addition, Ellams has five books published, including his most recent pamphlet of poems, ‘Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars’ (Flipped Eye, 2011).




Diary of an impish kid

Inua Ellams, a Nigerian playwright, speaks about his early immigration to the UK and how the new life influenced his play, 14th Tale, which was staged in the city this weekend

   Omkar Rege

Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Nigerian Inua Ellams had to move out from his conservative hometown in Jos to the capital city Lagos and finally settle down in London. The inter-familial rifts and refusal to accept cross-communal marriage became the contributing factor to the family to leave their home country.

At the age of 12, a young boy was thrust into a new life in a strange new place and has now expressed that wondrous and adventurous experience to the world. The 14th Tale, written and performed by Inua himself, chronicles the hilarious exploits of a mischievous problem child in a narrative that marks his journey from the clay streets of Nigeria to the roof tops in Dublin and finally to London.

Inua recalls his initial days in London when he was introduced to certain concepts that were alien to him — racism being one of them. “The perspective about Nigeria was different. Nigerians are stereotyped as people who’d like to go to any limits to earn some money. Unfortunately, it is true for some of them, but not all,” says Inua. “I didn’t know the colour of my skin was a problem to the people and at first I didn’t mind it at all. Some of my friends were angered and explained to me how I was supposed to feel offended at racist remarks,” he adds. In an innocent attempt to blend into the new environment, Inua tried the regular techniques but was advised, quite resolutely, to “stop acting white”. He, on the other hand, had no idea what this meant until he left for Dublin for further education.

Being the only person of African origin in the batch, Inua found it hard to blend with the crowd. “I couldn’t escape it. That was the time I had to choose whom to be. Was I going to be the black guy who loves hip-hop, or was I going to be the black guy who plays basketball. Quite frankly, I hated hip-hop. The local Irish people made me listen and develop a taste, which is funny,” he states laughingly. But that was the point in his life where his identity had come under scrutiny. “That is when I decided that to be what I am, I should not be bothered by what people think of me. I had to do the things I love and do them my way,” Inua states.

A certain sense of consciousness about the political and social scenario had made Inua a completely new person. “I knew if I needed to make a mark here, I had to carry an arrogant swagger about myself. I had to be proud of what I was and I had to tell the people to communicate with me on my terms,” he says. After that, life changed for Inua who began to participate in the art and culture activities at his college and slowly made a name for himself. He candidly remarks that, “It is funny that my search for identity led me to writing poetry through which I express myself and my freedom. But I do it in a language that is not mine but was imposed upon me by the British (who also colonised Nigeria).”

Inua was in the city to conduct a workshop on his style of performance and also stage the play for the city’s audience. 14th Tale, which, as Inua says, is 80% factual and 20% magic sprinkled on top. It is not simply a hilarious account of a mischief monger but is also a coming of age story. It is about a boy who, as he grows up and learns that the world has an order. The monologue is poetic and rhythmic and humour is the main ingredient of the narrative. Inua believes that although the setting may be different, Indians will still connect to the plot on two levels. “Firstly, with a character that stands up to authority and is in search of his identity, it is a universal concept. And secondly, the issue of immigration is pretty alive and current in India too,” says Inua. omkar.rege@dnaindia.net

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