Review: Half God of Rainfall, Kiln Theatre
PUBLISHED: 13:29 02 May 2019
Inua Ellam's rich writing and powerful storytelling flies in this brilliantly acted epic tale of a mother and son's bond
In contemporary theatre Zeus doesn't get much of a look in.
But in Inua Ellams' epic poem, brilliantly staged by Nancy Medina, the Greek god's thunderous presence literally shakes the auditorium.
Zeus is angry at his son, Nigerian basketball player Demi, conceived when Zeus raped his mother Modupe.
Half-god, half-human, Demi can cause floods when he cries and his skill at the hoops is legendary. But ambitious to win the Olympics, he breaks the ban on using supernatural powers in mortal sports and a showdown with the Gods ensues.
Ellams draws freely on Greek and Yoruba myths as he explores the clash between Europe and Africa.
If Demi's basketball career dominates the beginning – and provides much of the wit and comedy - it is Modupe's quest for revenge for the rape that proves the emotional heart of the piece.
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The production's austere staging – a gleaming black marble floor framed by a silver proscenium arch – keeps the physicality of the actors in sharp focus.
An impressive roll call of Greek and Yoruba characters are conjured with extraordinary precision by Rakie Ayola and Kwami Odoom, who complement each other best when they play mother and son: Modupe's world-weariness and fierce maternal devotion is neatly offset by her son's boyish naivety and bravura.
There's a moving lyricism in the scene in which Modupe and Demi tell how they learnt to love each other as he grows up, despite being haunted by Zeus' actions.
The lighting design by Jackie Shemesh becomes a key component as washes of luminous colours function like props.
The Half God of Rainfall was conceived as an epic poem and on stage it's the power of the storytelling that's the show-stealer. Not surprisingly then the writing is dense and rich.
At times, the elements come together and the theatrical scale is stunning as mortals and celestial beings from two continents clash.
At others, the piece could benefit from more spacing for clarity and emotional impact.
But, like Demi's idol, the god-like, fleet-footed Michael Jordon, Ellams' writing at times flies.