Black T-Shirt Collection is an odd one: an intensely vivid and poetic seventy-minute monologue written and delivered by the bespectacled Inua Ellams that fails to cut the mustard as an evening of theatre and is frankly quite hard to follow if you don’t latch on to the language from the off.
Ellams, a Londoner born in Nigeria, is very good at mixing direct speech with reported action in the tale of two foster brothers building a global market for their T-shirt brand. Their journey from small town market to big business in Cairo takes them via various dodgy projects, homosexual encounters, bitter fall-out and finally to catastrophe.
But it’s not so much a show as a show-case for a talented writer mixing his jazz riffs with his bolshie hip hop, his narrative arcs with his flat-out declamations. There’s a sense all the time of difficulties back home, and nothing really goes right with the enterprise as a result.
Still, as an example of new work and new voices bubbling under, the National is justified in giving Ellams house room in a co-production with Fuel; and Ellams’s own work (in Michael Vale’s design) as a graphic artist is certainly impressive – his black and white comic strip drawings, mostly evoking his own cultural alienation, have the power and potential of a good graphic novel.