Review: Jali at Studio Underground

Review by Hannah Fredriksson


In West African culture, a Jali is a historian, storyteller, or poet. Oliver Twist certainly is that - a natural storyteller with a certain ease on the stage. Throughout this one-man autobiographical show, he weaves his words to conjure up crystal clear scenes from his life as a refugee having escaped the Rwandan genocide. He jumps between the past and the present in a non-linear fashion, painting a detailed picture of how these events fit together to shape the person he is today.


On writing his first one-man play, Oliver has stated his intent to “elevate the storytelling form” to share stories that would be out of place in comedy clubs - and on this he has certainly succeeded. By sharing his truth Oliver allows himself to be vulnerable with the audience, but he never demands pity. He performs with an understated poise, sharing his story with carefully chosen words at a gentle cadence that keeps the audience in silent awe and hooked on his every word.


Oliver has a background in comedy, and indeed his stories are peppered with irreverent remarks that shatter the tension in the audience with joyous, knowing laughter. As a whole this performance is something more than comedy though, it’s a sobering insight into the social injustices that affect so many. It’s moving and heartbreaking, yet hopeful and uplifting.


The staging is minimal, with a riser on either side of the stage and a lowered section to the front. Oliver moves between the risers, with spotlights creating different zones that indicate a transition of time and space between each short story. At the front of each elevation is a void through which smoke filters through, softening the lighting and allowing the audience to see each ‘scene’ as Oliver does – through the hazy filter of memory.


The deceptively simple lighting does wonders to convey different locations and moods, eerie red for moments of trepidation, tranquil blue for moments of sadness or peace. Music is used subtly throughout the performance to set the scene and underscore moments of significance. The overall effect allows the audience to fully engage with Oliver’s story without superfluous distraction.


Jali is a wonderful exercise in restraint - it is perfectly balanced in comedy and drama, with a less-is-more approach to lighting and sound design that truly allows the story and the performer to shine. Oliver Twist has proven that he can craft a performance with nuance and charm that captivates audiences completely, all the while highlighting his sharp wit.

Image Credit: Tom Gilligan