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House of Ife Review

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

House of Ife by Beru Tessema

The Bush Theatre 5th of May - 11th of June

Review by Khai Shaw

Slow Train Coming - Bob Dylan as performed by the cast of Girl From The North Country

The opening of House of Ife takes a little while to get going (which is my only gripe). However, having had time to digest it, the pacing of the opening few scenes allows us to sit in this heightened sense of dread as they wait for their father to arrive from Ethiopia. The more they wait the more the memory of Ife and the difficulties he caused begin to ramp up, and the grief mounts more and more. This burgeoning sense of dread is super reminiscent of Slow Train Coming by Bob Dylan as performed by the cast of Girl From the North Country. Here the casts haunting vocals and the steady repetitive guitar chords only add to the foreboding atmosphere of the track, warming us that no matter what, the train will arrive and it will bring a reckoning with it.

Thiago Silva - Dave & AJ Tracey

Despite the slow start something that gives the show a spark, and a continued one throughout the play, is the firecracker performance from Michael Workeye. His portrayal of Yosi is measured, witty and bubbling with energy, carrying the scene whenever he's involved. It’s this youthful effervescence that reminds me so much of AJ Tracey and Daves iconic tune Thiago Silva. The rapid fire pace of the bars are only matched by the wordplay within them. All of this added to one of the best beats made in recent memory (in my humble opinion) make it an instant fan favourite, just as Workeye's performance is sure to be too.

Every Breath You Take - The Police

Writer Beru Tessema and director Lynette Linton work in beautiful tandem in this play, crafting a delicate piece about loss, belonging and accepting the journey that life has given you, no matter hat it throws your way. But perhaps their crowning jewel is to make the presence of Ife, the deceased brother, so noticeable that it feels as if he’s on stage with the cast. In every set change, every scene, even in the smallest details within the casts behaviour and performance we can see aspects of the man we never get to meet. It’s beautiful and yet it’s incredibly haunting as Aida (played by Karla Simone-Spence) says herself throughout the play. This harrowing feeling is perfectly captured by The Police classic Every Breath You Take. The constant repetition of "I'll be watching you" over the simple guitar lick creates a loop that just sticks in your mind no matter how many times you try to get it out. Almost to the point that it really does feel like someones watching you...

A House is Not a Home - Luther Vandross

Jude Akuwudike’s Solomon is a figure that feels painfully familiar at times. His strong sense of duty and faith seem admirable at first but as the play goes on the cracks begin to show and underneath we see a broken man, a violent man and ultimately a man that cannot take responsibility for his own actions. He needs love but does not know how to give it or appreciate it, And it is this true nature of his that reminds me so much of the song A House is Not a Home by Luther Vandross. Crooning away soulfully we believe that Luther deserves the love of his lady back but as the song progresses, much like Akuwudike in the play, we see that Vandross is out of options, excuses and even words as he crescendos and belts the final lines of the song over and over again, begging for one more chance at love.

(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano - Sampha

Admittedly I didn't know a lot about Ethiopian culture before seeing House of Ife. But the creative team, particularly Set & Costume designer Frankie Bradshaw and Lighting designer Jai Morjaria have created a beautifully subtle tapestry that makes you feel at home in a world that is rarely represented in todays society. The simplistic set up of the stage feels warm and familiar, almost as if you've been there for years. You never once feel out of place or disorientated and its a triumph and a true masterclass in making the audience feel like they are a part of the story. Sampha's song is a perfect mirror image of this sentiment. His soulful tone accompanied by these bittersweet and crisp piano note layers instantly take you to a place of nostalgia and you feel as if you've watched his journey with his mother and his home all along.

I Love You, I Hate You - Little Simz

One final performance highlight must be given and that's for Yohanna Ephrem's beautiful portrayal of Tsion. We see a young woman strong beyond her years and bound by a duty similar to her own father; to look after her family as best she can. But behind the strength and the sharp wit we see a young girl who simply wishes she could see, even speak to her, her father more. The complexities of her love-hate relationship with him as well as her need to be strong for everyone else are captured wonderfully in Ephrem's performance, and its this strength in her duality that reminds me so much of Little Simz's track. Her blistering lyrics, flow and cadence capture the pain of her upbringing without her own father, placing you right in the thick of it amongst the epic instrumental.


Honourable Mentions

Tears in Heaven - Eric Clapton

Let Go - PJ Morton

Latch - Disclosure ft Sam Smith

Shut Up - Stormzy


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