DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

Jollof Wars – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Gail Egbeson

Director: Lucy Dear

Despite a good deal of enthusiasm, Jollof Wars playing at the VAULT Festival seems a little undercooked and under-prepared. A farcical battle between Nigeria and Ghana to see who can produce the best jollof is, ultimately, a little soggy.

British-Ghanaian Kojo (with no list available characters’ names are approximate) is dating a British Nigerian girl, Kelechi, but their relationship is hampered by the culture clash between the two African countries, best seen in the competition of which nation’s jollof, a rice dish popular in West Africa, is more tasty. When Kojo meets his prospective mother-in-law for the first time he brings a jar of shito that he says brings out the flavour of the rice. She is horrified: her rice needs no condiments.

There are a few other subplots that keep the first half of the show moving. Kojo’s friend Eddie is having a secret affair. Kelechi’s sister uses magic in order to try and get Kojo’s Jamaican friend to fall in love and marry her. But strangely these stories are forgotten in the Judge Judy scene where a judge must decide which country’s jollof is the best.

This courtroom scene goes on for far too long, and is only saved by the imaginative final minutes. It is also in this scene where the banter takes on a more serious tone and Kojo is questioned whether his dislike for Nigerian food hides a hatred for Nigerian people. But again, this line of thought goes nowhere.

The cast is young and energetic, but perhaps they need more time to inhabit their roles. Stephanie Stevens as the mother is hilarious while the leads Maximus Morgan and Steffi Igbinovia are likeable and funny. The Network Theatre, with its old-fashioned rake, is possibly not the right space for them either. The actors’ voices are too easily muffled, and too many lines are delivered to the floor. The audience needs to be closer, possibly around all sides becoming part of the show itself.

Purple Moon Drama has been taking Jollof Wars around schools, and perhaps that is where it is more comfortable. That said, it has found its audience with plenty of people with West African heritage attending the opening night. But overall, the show needs more life, more colour and more spice.

Runs until 16 February 2020

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