Njambi McGrath

Njambi McGrath

Kenyan comic who emerged onto the UK new act circuit in 2013
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Njambi McGrath: Accidental Coconut

Gig review at the Soho Theatre

Britain has much work to do to come to terms with its horrific colonial past – and Njambi McGrath is here to encourage that conversation. Armed with hard-won personal and family experience, she offers a new perspective to those who have only learned their history via the ‘old white guys’ like those who did the colonising in the first place.

Born in Kenya to what was the Agikuyu people (before Queen Victoria’s emissaries got their thieving hands on the land), she offers a refreshing level of detail on this sizeable chapter in British history, which is so infrequently examined. The wide-ranging hour brings in religious beliefs trampled by invasion, the British forced-labour camp that her parents grew up in following the Mau Mau uprising, and the Berlin Conference of 1884, which carved up a continent… and so much more besides.

Since such topics aren’t GCSE syllabus stuff, Accidental Coconut (also currently being serialised as Becoming Njambi on Radio 4) is never less than fascinating – and frequently bleakly, sarcastically or ironically funny too. Often the facts are grimly ridiculous enough on their own, such as Oxford professor Hugh Trevor-Roper declaring as late as the 1960s that Africa had no history before the Europeans arrived.

But over an hour, the show becomes patchy, as McGrath sometimes reaches for sub-par punchlines when none are needed and jumps around with digressions that aren’t worth the journey (how did we get on to Abraham’s Biblical circumcision?). A late mention of the abuse her father meted out comes as a throwaway, where it might best be saved for another show.

It seems to be a question of having the confidence to balance when the story speaks for itself and when a gag is needed – and to put narrative first, rather than assembling jokes and trying to jam them together.

But the content of this show is crucially important – especially given the Brits did their best to erase Kenyan history and culture – and McGrath is an engaging guide through it, wryly witty even when anger would be an entirely justifiable response.

Njambi McGrath: Accidental Coconut continues at the Soho Theatre at 7.15pm tonight and Saturday.

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Published: 8 Oct 2021



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