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Max Lewendel

Review: THE HALF GOD OF RAINFALL at The Kiln Theatre

This modern, Nigerian/American Fairy story is well worth telling but some powerful acting from Rakie Ayola (Modupe) and a brilliant sound design by Tanuja Amarasuriya is not enough to save poor dialogue, distracting lighting, and lack of creativity in staging. With such a small cast, Inua Ellams new play may be more suitable to a literary audience than a theatrical one.

The Half God of Rainfall Kwami Odoom as Demi in The Half God of Rainfall. Photo by Dan Tsantilis.

Two actors play dozens of characters in this story of a modern Nigerian boy, Demi (Kwami Odoom), born in tragic circumstances and exceeding his humble (or not-so-humble) origins.

At the start, Rakie Ayola enters the stage with the house lights still up and we are aware we are in the presence of a master story teller. She grabs our attention, stood on a beautiful black, circular set that we are sure will do something spectacular later in the show. Her words drip like honey as we are invited into the story of Modupe, her son, and his struggle to become Demi: The Half God of Rainfall.

The blending of Greek and Yoruba gods into a modern setting is a unique and bold choice. Demi becomes a local basketball star, travels to America, and back to his homeland Nigeria for the 2012 London Olympics, his dreams of eclipsing his father a constant drive. His mother’s battle with ancient Greek god’s a true highlight and flows seamlessly from the modern context.

Unfortunately Kwami Odoom plays the charismatic, beautiful Demi without depth. He is also required to portray too many other characters so that all his role-swapping feels snatched and unfinished, a stark contrast to Ayola’s polished character changes, each more detailed than the last. Odoom’s athletic stage presence and hilarious sports reporter are all-too-rare highlights in his otherwise indistinct performance.

The creativity appropriate to the narrative, fairy-tale, storybook style is almost entirely missing. Director Nancy Medina is perhaps hamstrung by having only two actors, so physical theatre options are limited. With more cast members and more involvement from Imogen Knight’s movement direction, perhaps her staging might have filled the the beautiful black disc better.

Sadly, limited cast size, unimaginative directing, and some poor design choices prevent this promising show from taking flight.