“What exact regime teaches a man to take what isn’t given?”
This is the unexpected question posed by Inua Ellams, writer of critically acclaimed hit The Barbershop Chronicles. This time he brings us something a little different with an often striking interweaving of storytelling and poetry. The Half God of Rainfall tells the story of Demi (Kwami Odoom), half Nigerian-mortal, half Greek-god whose emotions can cause rain clouds to gather and rivers to burst their banks. When he takes to the local basketball court for the first time, his power awakens the deities and unknowingly sparks his father Zeus’s wrath.
Ever since another half-god – Michael Jordan – irresponsibly flaunted his supernatural powers on live TV by actually flying on a basketball court, the gods have outlawed half-men from partaking in mortal sports. This is a story about a meeting of worlds; and what happens when the whims of humans come head to head with the violence of higher beings. But even more so it is about power and its abuses.
It’s a piece unlike anything I’ve seen before. The clever, unique intertwining of Greek and Yoruba mythology is brought to beautiful, detailed life with Nancy Medina’s precise staging. Although the fast-paced storytelling is a little hard to grasp right away, I soon find myself pulled along with the flow of events. The epic nature of the piece contrasts against the vulnerability of Demi and his mother, Modupe (Rakie Ayola). The two bodies on the huge Kiln stage are stark against the stunning yet simple black marble design of Max Johns. The combination of Jackie Shemesh’s lighting and Tanuja Amarasuriya’s sound transport us from a tiny village in South West Nigeria, to Mount Olympus, to the further reaches of the galaxy.
Odoom and Ayola are powerhouses. They deftly embody a whole host of characters as well as providing engaging, quick-moving narration on the intricacies of this tale. As Demi, Odoom brings an endearing charisma and vulnerability to the half-god of the title. This contrasts beautifully with the wisdom of his mother, who Ayola embodies with a gorgeous strength that makes us all the more angry at the injustices she faces.
Despite the other-worldy themes, The Half God of Rainfall is punctuated by small, relatable, human moments – something that Ellams does so well. This is a powerful piece of theatre which takes you to realms that you would never expect.
The Half God of Rainfall is playing the Kiln Theatre until 17 May. For tickets and more information, see the Kiln Theatre website.