Tag Archives: Femi Elufowoju Jr

“The Book Of Grace” at the Arcola Theatre

In Suzan-Lori’s Parks’ excellent play, honourably discharged US soldier Buddy returns to his estranged family. One of a trio of fantastic characters, Buddy is superbly performed by Daniel Francis-Swaby who, appropriately for his role, is a strong orator. Buddy is counting “strikes” against his father and against “the man”, and we all know nothing good happens after the third one. Parks plots brilliantly making this cerebral also a thriller. Francis-Swaby reveals how disturbed his character is with skill. Director Femi Elufowoju jr makes the most of the script and cast to make sure not a single ball pitched is missed.

Peter De Jersey and Daniel Francis-Swaby

The subject of Buddy’s anger, guilty of “unspeakable” acts never specified, is his father Vet, an unhinged border guard played with passion by Peter De Jersey. Vet’s obsession with the “fence” he patrols (the play dates from 2010) comes close to comical. But Parks explains its importance with conviction. Despite being a terrifying figure, De Jersey makes Vet vulnerable; when he snarls about “my home” the delivery expertly conveys his fear as much as his anger. The play scores as a family drama as much as it provides insights into American politics. Vet is scary, every moment with him is a roller coaster, and his instability provides the play with many twists.

Ellena Vincent

Vet’s victim, and the heart of the piece, is his wife Grace, whose scrapbook of good news stories gives the play its title. Bearing in mind her husband has dug a grave for her in the garden, her optimism surrounding family reconciliation might seem misplaced. Yet a commanding performance from Ellena Vincent means we believe in Grace’s quest for positivity and her taste for Cat Steven’s Peace Song doesn’t seem silly…it is important. The book, another device that allows Parks to structure the play so well, becomes a precious object; its fate is painful. But living up to the virtue Grace is named for provides optimism, insight, and a home run for a play that is both bleak and brilliant.

Until 3 June 2024


Photos by Alex Brenner

“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” at the Arcola Theatre

This theatrical trip to Nigeria, via Dalston, comes courtesy of Rotimi Babatunde’s adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s prize-winning novel. It’s the story of Bolanle, played with precision by Marcy Dolapo Oni, who becomes the titular patriarch’s fourth spouse and inadvertently exposes a conspiracy that has shaped many lives. The story is dramatic but proves surprisingly funny, with a frank sense of humour that makes the show stand out.

Bolale’s “fellow inmates” in Baba Segei’s house are a terrific – in many senses of the word – trio. Taking seniority, there’s an unforgettable performance from Jumoké Fashola as the formidable first wife. Joined by Christine Oshunniyi and Layo-Christina Akinlude, all three define their characters with clarity and make the most of powerful monologues that deserve close study. Doubling roles, they join an ensemble that spoils the audience for talent, including a scene-stealing performance from Diana Yekinni.

Not only do the performers transport us to a very different world – they also sound great. As well as driving the plot with forceful direction, Femi Elufowoju Jr is the production’s musical director, and he infuses the show with sound. I’ve no knowledge of African music but it’s wonderful to hear emotion on stage mirrored with such dramatic efficacy.

But what of Baba Segi himself? The play revolves around him and provides a tremendous role for the appropriately charismatic Patrice Naiambana. A polygamist who is offered wives by desperate families and who values women on whether or not they can provide him with children is not instantly appealing. Using the audience’s incredulity about the character’s ignorance gets some great laughs. And the way he is manipulated by women becomes a source of satisfaction. In my own ignorance of African theatre, one reference point is Restoration Comedy – this show is every bit as funny as the best of them. But there is a more serious approach to character here and, underneath the jokes at his expense, Naiambana still makes you care for the man. As Bolanle says, you may not miss Baba Segi himself when you leave, but you won’t forget him and you will remember this play with fondness.

Until 21 July 2018


Photo by Idil Sukan