Tag Archives: Patrice Naiambana

“Barber Shop Chronicles” from NTLive

With a trio of companies behind it – and, don’t forget, links for donations – the National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse gave us something for the weekend with Inua Ellams’ play. This recording, from the London run in 2018, reminds us why this piece – which covers vast ground geographically and brings up plenty for debate – was so warmly received.

Scenes in barber shops in London, Lagos, Accra, Kampala, Johannesburg and Harare add up to a lot. And we encounter plenty of colourful characters (Patrice Naiambana’s Paul was my favourite although Hammed Animashuan’s performance was brilliantly scene stealing). Alongside a powerful drama between Emmanuel and Samuel, which make good roles for Fisayo Akinade and Cyril Nri, there are all manners of observation on language, politics, race and culture. It’s all interesting, although maybe not always subtle, but it could easily be overwhelming.

Hammed Animashau in Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre (c) Marc Brenner
Hammed Animashau

Ultimately, these chronicles are a collection of small studies and intimate scenes. Director Bijan Sheibani skilfully combines the big picture with close details, and the result belies any shortcomings. Ellams’ touch is light, while segues between scenes, with singing and dancing, are excellent. What could be confusing proves energetic. And the play is funny: jokes are used pointedly and there’s plenty of wit to enjoy.

While the barber shops, as a “place for talking”, serve as an effective device for holding the play together, what really does this job is the theme of fatherhood. The stories take in violence and various ideas of legacy and inheritance, offering plenty of insight. And it’s interesting to note how much bigger than biology the theme of parenthood becomes. Connections between the characters are handled carefully (until the end, in a clumsy moment that really disappoints). Ellams’ play, with Sheibani’s help, ends up more than the sum of its parts. And, given that it has more parts than a barber shop quartet, that’s really saying something.

Available until Wednesday 20 May 2020

To support visit nationaltheatre.org.uk, fueltheatre.com, leedsplayhouse.org.uk

Photos by Marc 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