THE corrosive impact of long-standing family secrets – and yet again religion – lie at the heart of this fascinating play, written by Beru Tessema, an Ethiopian-British writer based in London.
It’s part funny and part tragic, and lit up by some vibrant performances from the younger members of the cast, especially Karla-Simone Spence as a young woman (Aida) desperately trying to make a breakthrough as an artist.
It’s a refreshing play, interlaced with some throbbing music, that highlights the fractures that often form in families when the children want to break away from the past and be themselves.
Set in an airless council flat in North London, it starts in the aftermath of the funeral of Ife, the family’s eldest son. Daughters Aida (Ife’s twin) and Tsion (Aida’s younger sister, played sensitively by Yohanna Ephrem) are preparing the food for the mourners who are due to arrive shortly.
Into the flat stumbles brother Yosi (a brilliant Michael Workeye), the youngest family member who works at Sainsbury’s, but has aspirations to be a poet. He’s scatty, very much involved in his own world, and is something of a rebel (or thinks he is).
But the real rebel (villain) of the family is estranged father Solomon (Jude Akuwudike) who has failed to turn up to the funeral. He’s now a preacher (who has remarried with a phalanx of children) in his homeland of Ethiopia from where the family hail. But as we soon find out when he eventually turns up, he’s a tricky and violent customer who gives religion a bad name.
His list of sins goes on and on – the most heinous being the neglect (and abuse) he showed to Ife as his son fought substance abuse. There are other family crimes that the children wise up to, their only redeeming feature being that they bind the children together. The ending is delightful. Youth unchained.
Mother Meron (an excellent Sarah Priddy) is kindly and long-suffering. How she put up with this man of Christ for so long beggars belief.
Directed by Lynette Linton, House of Ife is an absorbing play. It’s Spence who steals the show, clutching Aida’s painting of the twin she loved and misses so much. But it’s the story that resonates.
Exhilarating fare from the pen of Tessema. Well worth a trip to West London to see.
Photos by Marc Brenner