Writer: Segun Lee-French
Director: Ivan Cutting
Music: Clement Ule
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Segun Lee-French’s fascinating play is embarking on a major regional tour, in a revised version, with a new cast.First seen in 2010, it tells of a young British man of mixed race, who follows the voice of a child which leads him back to the land of his fathers.
Played by Ricci McLeod, Taiye comes across as impatient and intolerant at first, as he smells the air of home and encounters an alien culture with its unfamiliar customs and endemic corruption.
He’s accompanied on his quest by his mother [Sioned Jones], generous to a fault, thrilled to be meeting Taiye’s Nigerian father Abraham again.
There to meet them, and act as go-between, is half-brother Femi – very persuasively played by Itoya Osagiede, who was also a convincing paterfamilias – with further wives and blood relatives waiting in the village – Antoinette Marie Tagoe [a survivor from the 2010 tour] is Stella, and Aunt Cynthia, among other great characters.
Lee-French’s writing is often poetical; the narrative is compelling, if occasionally slow. Ivan Cutting’s production is gloriously theatrical, with the four actors playing a myriad of parts, plucking costume detail from four well-stocked hat-stands.
The travellers’ luggage – almost lost to predatory taxi-drivers – becomes a car, a bus, a corpse and even the awkward bed that the “white boy” shares with his father. The show begins with a colourful carnivalesque procession, and ends with a curtain-call blessing for our journey home – the music, a key part of this immersive experience, is directed by Clement Ule.
We know little of Taiye’s life in the UK – a middle class education, with cello lessons, and a good, if demanding job. But it is fascinating to share his encounter with the culture that is in his blood – the juju, the different concepts of time, and of money, and the powerful forces at work in the village and the extended family. It was Taiye’s “shamanistic hypnotherapist” who set him off on his quest: his restless twin brother Kehinde, who died in infancy, begs to be taken back to be with his ancestors. It seems a pity that this plot strand is not more fully resolved, instead we “see” a mysterious third son whose appearance ends the play.
But the key moment – a phone call taken at a wedding back in the UK – is very effectively done; the mantle of his father the Chief falls on Taiye, and, in a marvellously dramatic moment, he dons the old man’s spirit mask and robe.
An eventful, often humorous, personal journey to the heart of Africa and a sense of identity.
Touring until May 24