“I go to Nigeria and I’m British, in Britain I’m Nigerian”

8 Jun

Belong by Bola Agbaje

Produced by Tiata Fahodzi and the Royal Court Theatre

Bola Agbaje has already made a name for herself. Winning a prestigious Olivier award for her first play, “Gone too Far!” she returns to the theatre with her current play, “Belong”, which manages to combine her first two loves – the theme of identity and the option of choice versus fate – all embroiled within Nigerian Politics. Melanie Scagliarini reports from Peckham’s Bussey Building’s opening night.

Combining a tale of the personal and the political, Belong walks a tightrope between tragedy and comedy, sharply woven together by what is becoming playwright, Bola Agbaje’s trademark of short dialogue and snappy scenes.

It is a gripping 90 minutes that has more than a passing resemblance to a Shakespearean tragedy than Agbaje’s previous work. Politics; the scheming, autocratic and corrupt Chief that rules with violence; the naïve politician who makes a public mistake at work and runs to another country to escape the shame; his wife with Nigerian grandparents, who considers herself steadfastly British; the sister who turns up uninvited and seeks to criticise everything the wife does in a typically Shakespearean habit of adding a character for pure comic relief. Played by Jocelyn Jee Esien – Bola intersperses perceptive physical acting that I defy all not to laugh at.

With the dialogue flowing well between characters and snappy scenes that flip between London and Nigeria, the audience is never bored. Perhaps some scenes are too short and the eternal move between the two countries does become a little tiring.  But Agbaje’s juxtaposition between seriousness and comedy more than makes up for it – with some moments that are pulled off with such great comic timing that you get the impression that the actors are genuinely laughing at the moment, not acting.

Msamati’s portrayal oozes both simmering resignation and despair at the women’s lack of understanding of him and his eternal search to belong – “I go to Nigeria and I’m British, here I’m Nigerian”, he says in one moment.

Bola admits that, whilst she is mainly speaking to Nigerian people in this play, it translates to all people. “The feeling of belonging is a common thing. You don’t have to be Nigerian or black to identify with the play.”

Belong is being performed as part of the Royal Court Theatre’s Theatre Local programme at the Bussey Building, Peckham until 23rd June 2012.
For more information and to book tickets, visit this linkhttp://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/belong-local?gclid=CJHPpt21sLACFUIOfAodPXimVQ 
For information on other African arts events taking place this June and July, visit the Out of Africa newsletter at this link http://www.icontact-archive.com/WdJy8WXl01msnUgsRPiZW73nhtIO9Xjb?w=2

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