Actress Shireenah Ingram is the unequivocal highlight of On Monday Last Week, a well-intentioned but somewhat clunky adaptation of postcolonial writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story.
Like almost every type of story on the London fringe scene (still), female angles to the immigrant one seem notoriously hard to come by. BAC’s 2016 London Stories: Made By Migrants may have introduced us to a series of eye-opening female perspectives, including those of Debbie (a Kuwaiti adoptee) and Lily (an Hungarian Auschwitz survivor) – but the form of the piece ensured you left them behind as swiftly as you’d been introduced.
The headline show of the CPT’s 2018 Calm Down, Dear! festival – Rachael Ofori’s brilliant So Many Reasons – also comes to mind: a one-woman show exploring life and its nuances from the perspective of a first generation British Ghanaian woman. I’m not confident Ofori would name ‘immigration’ as her show’s primary focus though (due to the young age she moved to the UK, weight of cultural heritage may be closer to it).
Asme Productions’ On Monday Last Week, currently enjoying a short run at the Etcetera Theatre, tackles immigration and ‘American Dream’ fragility head-on. Protagonist Kamara (Shireenah Ingram) has left Nigeria to join her husband in the States, somewhat reluctantly foregoing her Masters Degree credentials to accept a nanny role. The audience watch Kamara encounter and humorously rectify an incessant stream of sweeping, close-to-absurd (although sadly, entirely imaginable) ignorances about her heritage and motives, none more so than from neurotic father and king of the shuddery ‘Liberal Elite’, Neil. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it’s only the prepubescent Josh (played by adult Natalya Martin) who treats her without entrenched prejudice.
Saaramaria Kuittinen’s adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story, and Erika Eva’s direction, is strongest during Ingram’s intermittent direct addresses. The writing here is super sharp, unassuming and full of wit; and the delivery of these monologues (testament to Eva as much as Ingram) is believable, sincere, captivating and often nothing short of electric.
Shireenah Ingram is the unequivocal highlight of the evening: paradoxically as ‘at home’ on the Etcetera’s stage as her character is ‘not’ in this version of America that fails to live up to expectations. Her stage presence is pretty formidable – with every word coming out of her mouth seeming to linger in the air and cement itself in your mind. A masterful storyteller, there’d be a very good argument to condense/focus this piece exclusively into a one-woman direct address. I could watch her single-handedly holding the audiences attention for hours.
The issues stem from the fact the supporting characters are significantly less developed. Whilst there’s an argument this is a deliberate artistic decision (ie. the audience view all the other characters ‘through’ Kamara’s eyes and/or memories – and they’re therefore not meant to be entirely three-dimensional but somewhat fragmentary or caricatured), they just never quite seem necessary to the storytelling. Though this’d explain why Neil’s obsession around food and dieting feels too inflated to be naturalistic, I think I’d rather just hear about Kamara’s observations about preposterous Western behaviours through witty wordplay, than necessarily watch them play out in the flesh. The three actors struggle to really do much with the unlifelike characters that have been written for them, and some fairly clunky movement sections – whilst well-intentioned – feel equally unnecessary, distracting rather than adding anything.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s text is clearly layered in meaning and thematic exploration, and perhaps this adaptation of On Monday Last Week falls down by merely trying to include too many. Contemporary obsession and paranoia surrounding parenting techniques, for example, likely deserves an entire 60-minute production all to itself. In this context, it’s just an infinitely less captivating theme than Kamara’s nuanced experiences of loneliness, displacement and love.