Daily Archives: November 23, 2012

Black T-Shirt Collection @ Fuelfest


JOYCE MCMILLAN on BLACK T-SHIRT COLLECTION at Tramway, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 23.11.12

4 stars ***

BORN IN NIGERIA, living and working in London, Inua Ellams is the kind of writer/performer whose vision encompasses a whole planet in turmoil. His first solo show The 14th Tale – an Edinburgh Fringe First winner in 2009 – seemed ambitious enough, as it followed a young boy from Africa to London, conjuring up both worlds with terrific intimacy and vividness.

Yet his latest show Black T-Shirt Collection – which appeared at Tramway as part of this week’s season from young London-based producers Fuel – achieves an even greater reach, and a strange kind of global poetry. In a simple 75-minute monologue, accompanied only by Emma Laxton’s sound design and some projected graphic images by Ellams himself, the play tells the story of two young men from Jos in Nigeria – Mohammed and his foster-brother Matthew, originally from a Christian family – who grow up to launch a successful T-shirt business, powered by Matthew’s growing talent for design.

The story darkens, though, when Matthew learns that Mohammed is gay, and at imminent risk of exposure, in a social climate already made dangerous by escalating tension between Moslems and Christians. The two young men move on to Cairo and London, with growing success; but eventually, on a business trip to China, their increasingly tense relationship reaches a tragic crisis.

What Ellams achieves, in this remarkable solo drama, is a fiercely persuasive vision of a crowded world increasingly bound together by the cruel imperatives of commerce on one hand, and on the other by mounting social tensions that find expression in violent religious fundamentalism. It’s hard to argue with Ellams’s bleak vision of the world across which his two brothers travel, united in love, divided by money and bigotry; and even harder to resist either the passionate rhyme and rhythm of his writing, or the quiet humanity of his stage presence, both representing the hard world he describes, and sorrowing with it, too.