by Ade Solanke.
Arcola Tent Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 26 May 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 12 May 3pm. 24 May 2pm.
Runs 2hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 May.
Feelgood comedy viewed from feel uncomfortable seats.
This could be Black British theatre’s answer to Rafta Rafta, Ayub Khan-Din’s British-Asian family comedy. Both mix laughter open to all with particular impact for a particular community. And both could lead to some self-examination for spectators from any background.
Single mother Toyin has taken teenage son Timi to her family in Lagos, without him knowing she intends leaving him there to attend a very expensive, highly-disciplined school. Then she has doubts; family abandonments ricochet through relationships. They hurt, but like much else are healed in a feelgood ending (though little is feelgood about the seating; there’s a natural halfway point, while the Arcola Tent’s penitential auditorium cries out for an interval).
It’s often infectiously funny, though early on the jokes can seem contrived – later, the humour emerges naturally in the dialogue. Serious moments can be more threadbare, and there’s a slight unevenness in the plot-loading.
But serious matters are given due space, even when handled lightly. There’s the question of national identity between those visiting from England and those who’ve lived their lives in Nigeria. At first it’s funny, as are the different expectations of young people in Lagos and London. Later, this becomes a serious nub of Ade Solanke’s play.
Timi’s not bad but he’s lazy, over-indulged and dangerously close to crime. It’s clear the African school will redirect him from this, and from gang-culture. But it works by terrorising its pupils. As the adults’ action breaks-off for his mother to decide whether to sign the form for Timi to attend, there’s an extended scene between him and a friend already there.
A valuable debate on education and social values, it stays in the mind as Toyin’s decision, to which Solanke immediately returns the action, is finally made.
She is the most serious character, divided and anxious, and Anna-Maria Nabirye steadily develops her anxiety, fingers working at her neck as she listens to conflicting advice. Bradley John’s Timi starts the move from streetwise self-indulgence expertly, and Ola Animashawun’s cast play with the full-on energy possible in a setting where irony isn’t de rigeur as a sign of intelligence.
Mama-Ronke: Susan Aderin.
Tope: Damson Idris.
Baba: Olatunji Sotimirin.
Timi: Bradley John.
Sis Ronke: Yetunde Oduwole.
Toyin: Anna-Maria Nabirye.
Principal Osun: Ben Onwukwe.
Bev: Petra Letang.
Director: Ola Animashawun.
Designer: Katie Bellman.
Lighting: Katie Pitt.
Sound: Helen Skiera.
Costume: Hannah Marshall.
Assistant director: Moji Kareem.