by Bola Agbaje.
Bussey Building 133 Rye Lane Peckham SE15 4ST To 23 June 2012.
Mon-Sat7.45pm Mat Sat & 13, 20 June 3.30pm sold out.
Captioned 21 June.
Post-show Talk 18 June, 20 June 3.30pm.
NB some perfs sold out: June 7, 14, 18, 19, 22
Runs: 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS:020 7565 5000.
Review: Carole Woddis 31 May.
Ethnic complexities given an airing in South London.
Good to see the Royal Court entrenching themselves further in south east London, in Peckham. Returning with a brace of new plays (transferred from Sloane Square), Bola Agbaje’s Belong (in association with the British African company, Tiata Fahodzi) and Hayley Squires’ Vera Vera Vera, their decision to also hold free workshops with luck may also prove a judicious long-term investment.
For Agbaje is herself from a Peckham estate and came up through the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Programme. Goodness knows how much writing talent that programme has steered through into the British theatre gene pool.
Agbaje has been busy since she first came on the scene in 2007 with her award-winning debut, Gone Too Far!, one of the best plays on the vexed question of violence and the nature of Black British identity in recent years. In fact, although Belong sees Agbaje stretching her sights beyond the UK, in some respects it continues a similar theme. How, she asks, in her tragi-comedy, do you define belonging?
Set in London and Nigeria, Agbaje sets out to examine the confusions and tensions of being Black African and British and retracing African roots back to, in this case, Nigeria.
Drawing one assumes on her own family history, Agbaje’s central protagonist, Kayode – played with typical depth by Lucian Msmati, Tiati’s Fahodzi’s current artistic director – is a failed UK political candidate who spoke his mind too freely in his election campaign calling a Black opponent (and implied possibly of Caribbean descent) a `racist’.
To escape the heat, Kayode returns to Nigeria to visit his mother. There he becomes entangled in local politics with ultimately tragic consequences.
Agbaje writes with crisp humour which director Indhu Rubasingham exploits drawing rich characterisations much enjoyed by Peckham’s first night local, largely Black audience.
If Agbaje’s climax presents an all too predictable outcome, she is still impressive in showing Kayode’s political struggles of identity with the domestic and cultural ones of his Black British wife, Rita (the excellent Noma Dumezweni), his outspoken Nigerian sister, Fola and his Nigerian Mama (Pamela Nomvete). Being Black African and British was never so complex.
Kayode: Lucian Msamati.
Rita: Noma Dumezweni.
Fola: Jocelyn Jee Eslen.
Kunle: Ashley Zhangazha.
Mama: Pamela Nomvete.
Barman/Buchi/Police Commissioner: Itoya Osagiede.
Chief Olowolaye: Richard Pepple.
Director: Indhu Rubasingham.
Designer: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound: David McSeveney.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Titas Halder.
Belong was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square 26 April 2012.
A Tiata Fahodzi commission.