Writer: Tania Nwachukwu
Director: Ewa Dina
The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English is a delightful show which blends a simple folk tale with contemporary reflections on the importance of language, music and dance to keep alive connections with our roots.
Tania Nwachukwu, who writes and stars in the piece, is compelling in both her roles. As Tasha, she is the funny north west London girl who’s aware that she doesn’t know enough Igbo to speak confidently to her grandmother: ‘We’ve never had a conversation we both understand.’ But she’s also the mesmerising Nigerian story teller who uses movement and dance to draw us into the legend of the town of Eze and its fabled Kola Nut Tree. When she invites the audience to join in a call-and-response song, we happily do so.
The Kola Nut Tree itself, we learn, stores the stories of all the townspeople who over the years have whispered their secrets to it. If you break off a branch and listen, you can hear the laughter of your grandfather. But in recent times, the young people have started moving away, forgetting their language and culture. Without this nourishment, the tree begins to droop.
Meanwhile back in London, Tashia’s emails keep pinging through, reminding us of the disruptive rhythms of contemporary life. She’s been trying to grow a potplant, but complains that she can’t get this one living thing to thrive. Even singing it Sisqo’s Thong Song fails to elicit a response. She’s determined to revive it, though, as her parents are bringing her sick grandmother over from Lagos to seek medical care. Tashia longs to reconnect with her before her life ends. The context of Tashia’s childhood is a surprising one. She has fond memories of of her childhood in a council flat in London. It had no garden, but she’d adored the balcony with its dramatic cityscape. Later they move to Watford. Tashia becomes her mother, acting out her delight the freedom of finally owning their own garden and growing food for the family.
The Kola Nut Tree Does Not Speak English has no bitterness or anger. Instead it’s a joyful celebration of two cultures. Nwachkwu’s performance is superb, and she is able supported by the quietly dazzling percussion playing of British Ghanaian/Nigerian actor, musician and composer, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers.
Runs until 17 December 2022