“Mlima’s Tale” at Kiln Theatre is an elephantine triumph that packs a poignant punch without ever displaying an actual pachyderm. Lynn Nottage’s script, directed masterfully by Miranda Cromwell, orchestrates a mesmerising journey from Kenya to Vietnam to China, all on a stark stage adorned only with a few props and a white curtain, using shadows to paint the landscapes and a versatile cast of four to morph into a multitude of characters.
The Ghostly Pursuit of Justice
“Mlima’s Tale” centers around Mlima, one of the last ‘Great Tuskers’ with majestic tusks that graze the ground. When he’s brutally murdered for these prized ivory tusks, his spirit lingers, haunting those connected to his death. The narrative unravels through a gripping exploration of the ivory trade, exposing the greed, corruption, and callousness that stains everyone involved. From poachers to government officials to ivory carvers, the characters’ lives are inexorably altered by their association with the ivory trade.
As Mlima’s ghost transcends borders, the play becomes a harrowing and relentless pursuit of justice, intertwining human avarice with the majestic presence of the elephant.
A Minimalistic Marvel
In this theatrical marvel, less is undeniably more. The minimalistic approach harnesses the audience’s imagination, transporting us through continents and emotions without the need for elaborate sets or visual aids. It’s a show that proves that sometimes, the most powerful stories are the ones told with shadows and whispers.
The cast of five talented actors is the heart and soul of this production, seamlessly switching between multiple roles, nationalities, and genders. It’s like watching a dance performance intertwined with spoken word, creating an emotional depth that’s rarely seen in African-themed shows – sorry, Lion King!
Ira Mandela Siobhan: The Mesmerising Heartbeat of Mlima
Mlima, portrayed by the magnetic Ira Mandela Siobhan, stands at the heart of this tale, both as one of Kenya’s magnificent “Great Tuskers” and as the ethereal spirit of the elephant. His mostly wordless performance is nothing short of mesmerising, with graceful movements that cast a captivating spell over the audience. The way he conjures an elephant’s slow gait through shadow alone is nothing short of hypnotic.
Brandon Grace, an actor of remarkable versatility, tackles a spectrum of characters, from an elephant hunter to a privileged, first-world woman in a pink satin dress. His physicality, especially in a compelling, physical scene with Mlima, showcases his incredible strength and stability, making every character he embodies feel vivid and authentic.
Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, stepping into the role of Githinji and others after just one day of rehearsals, delivers an exceptional script-in-hand performance. Her ability to inhabit a diverse range of characters, each with distinct energy and movements, is truly remarkable.
“Mlima’s Tale”: A Short but Unforgettable Journey
Clocking in at a mere 85 minutes, “Mlima’s Tale” leaves you yearning for more, a testament to its captivating storytelling and emotionally charged performances. It’s a haunting, lyrical journey that transcends traditional theatre, making it an experience I wished could last much longer. “Mlima’s Tale” is a trunk full of surprises, proving that sometimes the most powerful stories are the ones that touch the heart.
This show is a theatrical masterpiece that proves you don’t need a trunk full of props to tell a compelling story – it’s all about the elephant in the room, and in this case, the room is the stage. Lynn Nottage’s poignant exploration of the ivory trade is as powerful as a stampede, and Miranda Cromwell’s direction is as sharp as a tusk. If you’re to see just one show this month, I really believe it should be this one.
09 Oct – 21 Oct 2023
Kiln Theatre, London