On Monday Last Week – Etcetera Theatre, London

Writer: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adapted by: Saaramaria Kuittinen

Director: Erika Eva

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Life is never what you think it will be, and however much you dream or plan things always end looking very different. Whether you’ve spent years imagining your ideal job or just rehearsed a difficult conversation in your head, other people never seem to follow the script you’ve created, they never say what they’re supposed to, as the protagonist in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story discovers.

On Monday Last Week, based on one of Adichie’s tales and adapted for the stage by Saaramaria Kuittinen, is the story of Kamara, a young Nigerian woman who falls in love and plans to move to America with her new husband, Tobechi. Eventually, she gets a job as a nanny to an American family, but it’s been six years since she last saw her partner and in the meantime, Kamara has begun to feel very differently.

Kuittinen’s hour-long production starts well, mixing Kamara’s own internal narrative delivered directly to the audience and dramatized scenes with the various people in her life. Director Erika Eva has applied some interesting techniques in the staging which link to passages in the text and help to clarify some of themes including a focus on shifting identity and the waning of emotion in long-term relationships.

The decision to use three actors simultaneously in the role of Tobechi utilises some well-staged choreographed movement as Kamara describes the physical experience of being close to him in the early months of their relationship. And, later in the play as the two grow further apart she begins to wonder which “version” of her husband she will encounter, the gentle, exciting man she fell for or the ever-smiling people-pleaser he becomes in America. Having three actors in the role reiterates this idea of personality splits and the sense of unified blankness Kamara experiences when she’s with him.

The way the story unfolds is less successful however and while it may be true to the original story, dramatically the play veers too far from its original intention. While the first section was more satisfactorily focused on Kamara’s loneliness in Nigeria and adjustment to living with the man she loved after a long separation, the many scenes depicting her life as a nanny working for an American family are considerably more disjointed.

These are interspersed from the beginning, focusing largely on a neurotic father and his son Josh who takes part in a Spelling Bee, while Kamara imagines a mutual attraction to the mysterious artist mother. All of these characters are rather two-dimensional so, aside from a tacked-on theme about the luxury of sanctifying parenthood in affluent societies, it adds very little to the story about Kamara’s adjustment.

The attraction between the two women isn’t given enough time to develop properly – or for Kamara to assume it has – so the scenes feel unconvincing. Kuittinen should consider extending the play to properly flesh-out these secondary creations or allow Kamara to narrate more of the story to reinforce her perspective on the new world she is experiencing. There is also plenty more to say about mythical ideas of the promised land in conjunction with the different experiences of African-born and American-born women, seeking solace in each other’s heritage.

Shireenah Ingram’s Kamara is an engaging narrator who helps the audience travel from Nigeria to the States, investing in the growing “flatness” of her emotional life and could easily carry more of the show. Stephen Bradley, Natalya Martin and Koral Neil work well together as the three strands of Tobechi but their American family are little more than pen sketches.

On Monday Last Week has a genuinely worthwhile story to tell about the gap between our dreams and the harsh reality of daily lives, and while it begins to unpick a number of cultural clashes, there is plenty of untapped potential here that could tell the audience much more about female immigration and the problem of living someone else’s perfect life.

Runs until 3 February 2018 | Josephine Samson

Review Overview

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Untapped potential

The Reviews Hub - London

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