PALM WINE AND STOUT
by Segun Lee-French.
Eastern Angles Tour to 30 October 2010.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 October at Curve Studio Leicester.
Nigeria comes to East Anglia.
Did I hear aright – they’ve been brewing Guinness for years in Nigeria? Anyway, mixed-race Taiye enjoys a bottle in a celebratory moment during visits to his father’s homeland. Where he’s introduced to the local brew, palm wine. Cautious at first, it only takes a single taste to convert him – though these are about his only drinking moments in the play.
For dramatist Segun Lee-French is more interested in the two strands of Taiye’s identity as he takes his White English mother to Nigeria and meets the rest of the family. His father has more than one wife (and seems intent on adding to the number upon meeting Jane) and there are several conflicts between these wives, as well as matters of cultural acclimatisation – which can lead to some overt factual infilling from Joe Jacobs’ Taiye in his recurrent direct-to-audience comments.
A sudden death ends act one, casting a more serious mood over the second half. Yet the production works best when events are buoyant; the most serious moments have a tendency to be ponderous. And the small-scale limitations become apparent in group dancing scenes, where masks and costume changes don’t create separate identities for the four-strong acting company: it’s very evident who is really who.
But Eastern Angles, working with Nottingham-based Theatre Writing Partnership and others, have a good cast all round, while the use of suitcases to form most of the set – sofa, car, bus, mortuary-slab – makes for versatility and enhances the sense of people on the move.
The biggest visual impression, though, comes from the actors. Jacobs’ Taiye would be considered African by descent by most White people – yet his light complexion, while distinct from his mother, means he’s labelled White in a Nigeria where the darker hues of Zackary Momoh and Antoinette Marie Tagoe are presumably more standard.
Lee-French has some pointed moments – Jane’s fear of Nigerian-style driving leads to anxious warnings to Taiye not to lean his arm through the car window. Tagoe has a vivacity that can show pure joy or annoyance while Momoh distinguishes between confident Femi and stooping, yet self-assured old father Abraham.
Taiye: Joe Jacobs.
Jane: Helen Grady.Femi/Abraham: Zackary Momoh.
Stella/Yinka: Antoinette Marie Tagoe.
Directors: Kate Chapman, Ivan Cutting.
Lighting: Penny Griffin.
Percussion/Dance: Clement Ule.
Costume: Cherilyn Leeson.