A racist killing is the spur for this powerful study of grief. In a 60-minute solo tour de force, Kibong Tanji holds the stage as Femi, a Nigerian East Ender visited at night by visions of her murdered twin Seun, and by day attending the trial of the white men who killed him. Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s script is full of rage and pain, which Tanji gives a fierce physicality.
At the start, I feared the emotional pitch could not be sustained. Dressed in athleisure and a short puffa jacket, with hip-length braids, Tanji springs up from the single chair on stage, face taut, eyes agonised, recalling the brother she preceded into the world by mere minutes. Theirs was a loving, aspirational family – like Stephen Lawrence, Seun wanted to be an architect – until their parents died in a car crash when she and Seun were 13. His subsequent death in Margate, in front of his white girlfriend at the hands of a gang of white men, seems to have unhinged Femi.
Baruwa-Etti is good on the irrationality of grief. Femi rails at the supportive friends who cannot fathom her sorrow, and blames Seun’s girlfriend. Trying to escape her own thoughts in a club, she is driven howling to the toilets by a song she and her brother loved. Her state of mind swings from suicidal to murderous, and she attacks the parents of one of the accused. When she brandishes a knife it’s chilling, even though there’s no one else on stage.
The script mixes the poetic with the prosaic – Femi still has to hold down a supermarket job while boiling with vengefulness - and is suffused with the texture of London. Nadia Fall’s production is dynamic, making great use of lighting (Oliver Fenwick) and sound design (by Tingying Dong) as Tanji ricochets between the two plywood walls of the set. The final image is a lovely one. I expect we’ll tire of one-person shows once theatreland gets back up to strength, but for now, this is a blinder.
Until 19 June (and online 15-20 June); stratfordeast.com