Review: The Half God of Rainfall

“A torrent of words but a drop too much,” says Richard Lutz.

Nothing like a fistful of fables to fill a stage. Take the Big Ones: Jealous Greek gods, the Hindu Ramayana or the stories of humble Christian saints who see the light.

So why not create the big mythic epic for Africa? Nigerian poet Inua Ellams has done this with his play The Half God of Rainfall now on at The Birmingham Rep studio.

A young boy is the son of Zeus, born after a Yuroba woman is raped by the god. The lad is called (suitably) Demi. And his rise to the top, not to the apex of Olympic stardom or Premier League footie, is on the courts of basketball’s supreme team, the Golden State Warriors from California.

But he angers a jealous Hera – wife of the all powerful Zeus – and inevitably, tragically, his ruin is set. He will fail and fall.

Inua Ellams creatively knits together Nigerian myths with Greek fables as he mixes US hoops culture with the almighty battle between mere humans and haughty gods. But with this two hander, the narrative can get blurred. To have twin storytellers both tell the tale and act it out in a multitude of roles can muddy a story if not handled perfectly and cannily. And this is what happens in this admirably bold yet flawed play.

Hats off, though, to Rakie Ayola (above) who dominates the sparse stage with her handful of roles as Demi’s abused mother, a phalanx of Olympian gods and even as a hard-nosed basketball coach. Sharing the Rep’s Studio is Kwami Odoom, who fills the bill as Demi as he rises to the heights of super stardom only to plummet like Icarus. But these sterling performances aren’t enough. The Half God of Rainfall, which was originally published as an epic poem, does not grab you. You admire its force of words, its poetics and its army of gods and mortals summoned up by the author. But I left a bit confused. The Half God of Rainfall was a half-drop too much. Not every written story translates to the tough boards of a stage

Until 20th April.