As a result of an unexpected and very heavy rain shower, I ended up arriving early at Bush Theatre to seek shelter. It’s always a nice bar to sit and have a drink in, and on this particular evening it was a joy. There was a palpable level of excitement for the press night of House of Ife, which is the first play in Bush 50 – the Bush Theatre’s birthday season. Cast and crew were wandering through wishing each other well, chatting to friends and strangers in the bar. The building felt full of energy, anticipation and happiness. So I’m delighted to report that House of Ife delivered on all of this and is a fantastic start to Bush 50.
Following the death of eldest son Ife, a British-Ethiopian family come together to grieve and heal and in the end, reveal some family secrets. The family has been split for years with Solomon (Jude Akuwudike), the father, having left them to return to Ethiopia where he has started another – considerably younger – family. Solomon returns to London, missing the funeral but insisting that the three children in London remain his first priority. This leaves the family not only dealing with grief following the death of the eldest but dealing with questions as to how Solomon fits into the family and how all of this came about.
Michael Workeye as the youngest, Yosi, works in Sainsbury’s and writes rap verses. Yosi has the lion’s share of the script’s fun and laughs. By contrast, Karla-Simone Spence as Aida, an artist and the eldest, is given more of the heavy lifting; the death of her twin weighing on her, dragging her down and the return of Solomon unsettling her further. Yohanna Ephrem as the middle child, Tsion, is caught in the middle of everything. These three simply sparkle as the children. They are utterly convincing in their roles. Each puts in an excellent individual performance, but they also together easily and effortlessly make us believe they are family, with the closeness, exasperation and everything else that brings. I think you might see a lot more of these three young actors’ names in the future. This is not to take away from Akuwudike or Sarah Priddy as the mother, Meron; both are also excellent, but the children are the heart and soul of this and each actor more than meets this challenge.
The story covers a lot of familiar family and generational conflict but Beru Tessema’s script is tight; the dialogue flows and the impressive cast absolutely elevates this to another level.
Happy birthday Bush Theatre – this fine production bodes well for the year ahead.
Written by Beru Tessema
Directed by Lynette Linton
House of Ife plays at Bush Theatre until 11 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.