Kontomble (The Shaman and The Boy)

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


Four bentwood chairs, a couple of anoraks, two back-packs: the stage is otherwise bare. You could even do without the minimal set dressing because Nalini Chetty’s three-hander – as directed by Guy Hollands – already holds all you need to engage with the clash of cultures it explores. Frankly, Ray – given just the right mix of neediness and tense edginess by Keiran Gallacher – is the kind of teenage lad we’d probably not connect with at a Glasgow bus stop. But Ezra is new in town, and in any case Ezra’s intuitions tell him that Ray is a troubled soul more likely to harm himself than others – so Ezra offers healing advice, based on the rituals and beliefs of his native West African homelands. When Ray’s Auntie Ruth (Beth Marshall) hears about the friendship, she reacts with a roster of negative responses that Chetty’s writing – and Marshall’s nicely agitated concerns – render totally understandable. If we were Ray’s only living kin, and if we had looked after him from toddler days – and throughout his ongoing bouts of mental illness – wouldn’t we want to protect hims from strangers? Especially ones – like the calmly charismatic Ezra of Miles Yekinni – filling his heart and head with talk of ancestors, community, and other spirit forces that could help drive out the memories that so haunt him.

The current fracas over migrants inevitably underscores aspects of Chetty’s play, not least because Ezra – as a determined Ruth discovers – is not all he seems. But Kontomble looks beyond Ruth’s anxious suspicions to question our prescribed attitudes to mental health problems, our lapses from faith and our loss of close community. We never get to hear Ezra’s own story – any chance of a prequel, please?

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