A soulful exploration of grief and sibling love, The House of Ife by Beru Tessema tells the story of the aftermath of the death of the eldest son Ife. Set in North London this Ethiopian-British family drama is a visual feast, beautifully performed with writing that sparkles with poetry and wit. I’d urge you to hurry and book tickets following sold-out success of Red Pitch and the short run.
The smell of incense is the first thing I notice before entering the auditorium and then the music which reminds me of the Islamic nasheeds I listened to as a child. The set is a busy living room set with a table at the centre, a sofa on one end and a bookcase on the other. The three siblings, Aida (Ife’s twin sister), Tsion (younger sister) and Yosi (youngest brother), kick off the play with an everyday familiar scene of siblings playfully bickering while mum’s away. It is instantly relatable.
As the eldest of three siblings in a single parent working class migrant household, I am stunned at how accurate the sibling portrayals and dynamics are. Of all the family dramas I’ve seen, never did my family feel so represented. The duty embedded in our Bengali family model is very similar to the one depicted in The House of Ife where mourning is ceremony and shared with the community, not focusing on the individual. The soundscape of the mourners and preaching in their back garden while the family steal away private moments of mourning are beautifully directed. I have shivers and I’m reminded of my grief when I lost my father. I suspect many in the audience who have grieved loved ones also commiserate. It is a joy to be invited to grieve collectively through theatre.
Yosi, played by Michael Workeye, plays a convincing teenage boy from North London complete with ‘roadman’ dialect and delivers much needed comedy to the play. Tsion is the perfect middle child and Yohanna Ephrem’s carefully crafted and controlled performance of her is noteworthy. Tsion is the most interesting character in the play and that which is most aligned with the audience, observant, thoughtful, and changing her mind and position as she pauses and navigates the pieces of the story each family member share, whether voluntarily or under duress! In contract, Aida is the least complex character in the play and the most predictable, played wonderfully by Karla-Simone Spence. Ife’s twin embodies grief in a way that she fails to compose or comprehend.
I have of course saved the best for last. Individually and as a duo Ife’s mother and father, Sarah Priddy and Jude Akuwudike steal the show. Magnificent acting that gives us complexity, provoked tears, anger, laughter and love. Their chemistry is electric. Priddy’s unbridled monologue on the correct way to mourn Ife is a performance I won’t forget any time soon.
There is much more to dissect in this play such as the loving way addiction is approached, or the inverted American dream of migrants in second and third generations who long to return to the country of their ancestors, or the moral dilemma at the heart of this play which makes for an unlikely villain, and the ripples of trauma inflicted by toxic masculinity. I wish I can see it again. What an achievement for any playwright, let alone for one’s debut stage play! Beru Tessema, I hope to see many more.
By Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tsiddiqaamin & WordPress.
House of Ife is currently showing until Saturday 11th June 2022 at the Bush Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…
For our interview with writer Beru Tessema, visit here…
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