Review: The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English

3 star rating
Rich in textures, detail and persuasive characters, gains energy though African interactive and communal storytelling, but lacks conflict development.
The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English at Tristan Bates Theatre

Image: Tristan Bates Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 16 November 2019

Tania Nwachukwu


Tania Nwachukwu


The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English explores the archiving of personal, familial, and cultural histories of a first generation British-Nigerian woman of Igbo descent: Tania Nwachukwu.

As a storyteller recounts a folk tale about a place named Eze and the Kola Tree that grows in the village, we also discover Tania's own modern-day journey to document her history.

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English serves as a contribution to the resistance of the erasure of the Igbo language, and uses African theatre practices of oral storytelling, call and response, dance, song, and poetry, to challenge Western theatre conventions, investigate the way that methods of documentation change generation by generation, and embrace the importance of telling your own story.

ActDrop reviews

Eugenia Ziranova

Performance date: Sunday 10 November 2019
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Languages die not only when their last native speaker (for example, from a remote Indonesian or North Australian tribe) passes away.

A language with 50 million speakers can also be endangered.

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English documents the story of Igbo language decline both in Nigeria and within the family of its author, Tania Nwachukwu, a first generation British-Nigerian woman.

Ms Nwachukwu's command of the theatrical craft is excellent.

She moulds the text in the form of an African folk tale, and contrasts it with casual speech of a young Londoner.

Her choice of expressive means matches the topic: call and response, traditional dance, recorded and live music, communication with the audience.

The 45-minute show shifts between an inner London tower block, a garden in Watford and an Eastern Nigerian village.

It is connected by the idea of home, belonging and a Kola tree, central to Igbo people's representation of family history, community and peace.

Ms Nwachukwu flaunts her acting prowess, bringing distinct and persuasive characters to the story - old and young, men and women, each with their own voice, pose, gait and energy.

It is a delight to see.

Yet with all the richness of means, it did not deliver gripping substance.

Out of all the possible stories about Igbo language we get the most generic one: the threat of being replaced by English.

Language is an integral part of identity, and it's logical that the story of a language was told through the family documentary.

However, the family format locked the story on the micro-level, while the history of a language is always a part (and often a battlefield) of a greater political history.

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