This week, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun and We Should All Be Feminists, was asked by a French journalist: ‘Are there book shops in Nigeria?’ In this new play by Asme Productions, her short story On Monday of Last Week, adapted by Saaramaria Kuittinen, is full of similar instances of lazy, sweeping ignorance’s about Africa. Our protagonist, Kamara (Shireenah Ingram), has recently moved to America to be with her husband, Tobechi. Working as a Nanny to Josh (Natalya Martin), his neurotic hypochondriac father, Neil (Stephen Bradley) and his alternative artist mother, Tracy (Koral Neil), Kamara quickly realises that the idea of the ‘American Dream’ she has been sold does not exist. On Monday Last Week explores immigration, dreams, and the assumptions we may make about cultures we are unfamiliar with.
Directed by Erika Eva, this short production gives a voice to the young female immigrant. The script is nothing short of beautiful, and Adichie’s adapted prose is funny, sharp and wonderfully observant. Conversations between Kamara and Neil reveal, exemplified by the French journalist afore mentioned, the misinformed, retrograde preconceptions the Western world still hold regarding Africa. When Neil asks Kamara “Where are you from?” she responds “Nigeria” and he is taken aback, commenting on her “surprisingly” good English.
It seems as though Ingram is made for the role of Kamara, and gives her a grace, a calm wit and an intelligence that Adichie often writes into her female characters. Bradley moves sporadically and quickly as Neil, his incessant worrying both slightly obsessive and almost frightening, the opposite to Kamara. The staging, however, feels a little bizarre. Ingram is undoubtedly the star of the show, possibly the only truly necessary character. Her storytelling is magnetic and enchanting, so much so that the avant-garde movement of the three other cast members around her feels redundant and distracting.
Perhaps I enjoyed On Monday Last Week so much because I enjoy Adichie’s writing so much, but nonetheless, Kuittinen has translated it excellently to the stage. The colourful imagery of her prose has been preserved, and fans of her unique voice will recognise it instantly as hers. Although the piece deals with big, important ideas like race, identity and culture, it also deals with smaller, more personal, intimate issues like sexuality, dreams and love. Kamara is an immigrant, a Nigerian, a woman, and watching and listening to her navigate her new home in America is enlightening and entertaining. Now, more than ever, we need to hear voices like hers.
On Monday Last Week is playing at the Etcetera Theatre until 3 February 2018
Photo: Josephine Samson