Monday, 16 April 2012

Theatre review: Black T-Shirt Collection

Writer/performer Inua Ellams returns to the National Theatre with Black T-Shirt Collection, a gentle fable about globalisation and identity. When her husband is killed in a religious conflict, a Nigerian Muslim woman adopts a Christian boy into her family as her own small act of religious harmony. The boy and his new foster brother becomes best friends, and Ellams narrates the story of Muhammed (Muslim and gay) and Matthew (Christian and straight) as they start a little designer t-shirt business that becomes a cult hit with the locals. When Muhammed's sexuality becomes publicly known the brothers flee to Cairo and start again, then relocating their business to London and eventually a Chinese sweatshop.

Thierry Lawson directs Ellams on a plain black set in a truncated Cottesloe, with sparing use of cartoonish projections to help tell the story. It's a very gentle, sometimes moving tale as the brothers' priorities in life start to change and diverge, and the author remains a very likeable, softly-spoken performer. Perhaps too softly-spoken though: His voice can verge on the soporific (indeed there were, briefly, loud snores from one audience member) and his writing is better at differentiating the story's various characters than his perfromance is. I thought a couple of shocking moments were a bit overdone and not quite in keeping with the rest of the piece, but Black T-Shirt Collection is a likeable, clearly heartfelt story, that could have done with a bit more gusto in the actual performance.

Black T-Shirt Collection by Inua Ellams is booking in repertory until the 24th of April at the National Theatre's Cottesloe.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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