Njambi McGrath: Bongolicious | Review by Steve Bennett

Njambi McGrath: Bongolicious

Note: This review is from 2014

Review by Steve Bennett

The poster for his jauntily titled show feature a smily girl with a cartoon monkey, and the promise of a ‘heart-warming tale of survival’.

But Njambi McGrath’s BongoLicious is possibly the most horrific comedy show ever.

And I don’t mean that euphemistically. This is a deeply upsetting story of the gruesome tortures, rapes and murders committed in Kenya in one of the most shameful episodes of British history.

Interred in gulags, tens of thousands of Kikuyu people were kept in unspeakable conditions in brutal retaliation for the Mau Mau uprisings against colonisation in the 1950s. In these unsanitary camps, built by their own forced labour, woman were the subject of brutal sexual violations and made to watch their children gang-raped. They were ordered to work in the searing African heat with no food or water, or dig their own graves before being summarily executed.

Try telling that as a comedy monologue.

McGrath starts to do just that – dropping in a jibe against Michael Gove, for example, as she describes the lessons in British values the Kikuyu were compelled to attended. It jars, and she soon moves, advisedly, into straight, chilling narrative, which reduces her to plaintive, desperate cries as she imagines the sickening barbarity endured by her grandmother and the others at the hands of oppressors who treated Africans as sub-human savages.

It’s emotive stuff that needs to be told, even if McGrath is theatrically overwrought in doing so. But thinking about the depths of inhumanity man can sink to is a tough starting point for comedy, so this relatively inexperienced comedian avoids trying.

The survival story we were promised is that, well, she’s here. Her grandmother died when her father was very young, and he was left to eke out an existence living on the streets. But he worked his way up from homelessness to become a farmer able to support a family through sheer hard graft. This is a story that would offer more potential for humour, but McGrath rushes through it in a brisk five minutes, again keeping it purely factual.

The only real attempt at comedy is a seven-minute – and none-to-promising – stand-up section at the start, again at odds with the horrors she’s about to describe. Pretty much her opening gambit is ‘all you white guys look alike to me’ and she barely takes any detours off Route One of mediocre club material before the drastic left-turn into the hell of the British camps.

This savage history lesson is so far from being a comedy show, we won’t even attempt to rate it as such.

Review date: 12 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Just the Tonic at The Mash House

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