Director: Paul Bourne
Writer: Janice Okoh
Reviewer: Lettie Mckie
This one act play from cutting edge theatre company Menagerie was a new work showcasing extraordinary writing and acting talent. Upstairs at the Soho Theatre is a studio space with an intimate feel. This show was perfect in that space. Expertly made to look like an ordinary British-Nigerian living room (set and costume Louise Whitemore) it felt less like a performance area and more like the audience had accidentally stumbled into somebody’s home.
Egusi Soup tells the story of The Anyia family who are packing to travel to Nigeria to commemorate the death of Mrs Anyia’s (Ellen Thomas) husband. Her daughter Grace (Rhoda Ofori – Attah) and her husband Dele (Nick Oshikanlu) are helping with the packing when everything is thrown in the air after Anne Anyia (Anniwaa Buachie) arrives back out of the blue from her glamorous life in New York. The play reveals the various tensions, sorrows and joys of the family, rising to several climaxes of high drama and emotion, but some of the most moving moments were effortlessly understated. A charismatic preacher Mr Emmanuel (Lace Akpojaro) also features heavily in the story line, doling out blessings over his out of date Nokia and liberally spraying holy water around the stage.
The amazing thing about this play was that it managed to be both sensitive and accurate in its portrayal of a modern British-Nigerian family. It did not hide behind stereotypes, but was also not po-faced or ashamed to tackle difficult subjects, such as charismatic Christianity or juju fertility rituals. These characters were being presented in all their complexity and reality for the audience to see, and although the character traits portrayed by the mother and the pastor were sometimes played for laughs, this never became gratuitous. Conversely much of the pathos around the play revolves around these two characters, the lasting grief of Mrs Anyia, and the way the pastor is revealed to be a selfish money grabbing crook.
This play was both emotionally charged and subtly acted, the pace and tone changed seamlessly throughout so that the audience was carried along through the story without getting bored. There were hilarious jokes, heart breaking moments of personal tragedy and the characters’ ambiguity was subtly revealed in the words left unsaid. This play left me wanting to know more about this family, and how they would recover from the various things that had happened. Although the play dealt with situations that were specific to a particular community, the themes of faith, love, bereavement and familial responsibility were universal. A thought-provoking production that was a triumph because of its heartfelt and honest portrayal of ordinary lives.