The week in which Lady Susan Hussey resigned from Buckingham Palace is the best time to watch The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English at Bush Theatre.
The performance is in the Studio space, conventionally arranged with seats on 3 sides of the set. It now seems that Bush Theatre directors are reusing the same 3-panel backdrop that appeared previously in Elephant and Clutch and Invisible.
At the front left of the stage, a floral arrangement.
At the start, Francesca comes on and begins playing the drums and other percussion, using the effects pedals to record and then replay the sound in a loop. She can also put reverb on the vocals when Tania delivers monologues relating traditional life in the Ibo village of Eze, in Nigeria. She describes the significance of the titular Kola Nut tree (represented on the right-hand panel at the back of the stage) as the organic repository of communal memory, whose deterioration represents loss of solidarity.
The sequences in which she narrates life in Eze (involving call and response with the audience) are intercut with scenes from the life of Tasha, a young woman living in Watford with her parents. Her dad is away in Nigeria now trying to assist her grandmother in getting a flight to London to come to be with them and perhaps get medical care. Meanwhile Tasha is having trouble with her job, which is putting too much on to her (it’s not clear exactly what she works on, but she seems to be working at home on a laptop). She is anxious about her status, following the Windrush and other scandals. She has an older brother, who we never see, who apparently more secure because he’s in a rugby team and passing as “one of the lads”. At the same time she despairs over the deterioration of the potted spider plant her mum has given her to look after, and also her own general ignorance of the Ibo language. Something important has been lost, and her mother was missing the connection with other living things when they were in a tower block in London; she is happier now they live in a house with a garden and she can tend it, like she tended plants back in Nigeria.
Although there are jolly song and dance moments, this has a sad and unsentimental conclusion, although as a finale the audience are invited again to take part in an improvised looped recording to play out with. The many ways in which organic and radical structures are analogous to societies and families are explored in a subtle and non-didactic way.
‘I can see I am going to have a challenge getting you to say where you’re from.’ said Lady Hussey, but her problem was that she wasn’t listening to what was already said to her. The picture at the top is of the video reel playing in the Theatre lobby, which is also on the webpage.