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A CurtainUp London London Review

English weather is a soul stealer. — Mama
Centre Lucian Msamati as Kayode in the marketplace
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
For her latest play, Bola Agbaje looks at a British politician of Nigerian extraction who returns to Nigeria after losing an election and embarks on a new political career in Africa. Produced jointly by the Royal Court and Tiata Fahodzi, the theatre company of Africans in British theatre, Belong is about where we really belong and whether that is to our family or to our country.

Lucian Msamati plays long term British resident Kayode, settled with his wife Rita (Noma Dumezweni) in London and standing as a prospective member of parliament. >Unfortunately a newspaper headline from the opposition saying “Can you trust an African?” elicits an unwise and unthought out response from Kayode and he blots his copy book and his election winning chances by unwisely racially abusing the other (black) candidate and the electorate on Twitter. Kayode is labelled a coconut, someone black on the outside but with white values and loyalties.

After the election loss, Kayode takes himself off to Africa for a rest and to visit his powerful mother Mama (Pamela Nomvete). The electoral rejection leads him to hanker after somewhere where he is not labelled a black person.

In London Kayode and Rita’s Nigerian fashion conscious friend Fola (Jocelyn Jee Esien) is no lover of England and feels Nigeria (or Dubai for the shopping) is the place to be. In Nigeria, Kayode’s mother has another in a long line of young male protégés, a boy from a poor background, Kunle (Ashley Zhangazha) who is forging a political career for himself under the sponsorship of the corrupt local chieftain Chief Olowalaye (Richard Pepple), a long term rival of Kayode’s family. Kayode cannot be in Nigeria for very long without seeing things that need addressing and gets caught up in a political campaign of his own.

The play is a strange mix of comedy and high tragedy, the one sitting uncomfortably with the other. For instance, the family rivalry between Kayode’s wife Rita and his mother is comic as they abuse each other but underneath this is a very difficult situation for Kayode, with the two women he is closest to, at loggerheads with each other.

There are interesting cameos finely observed by Ms Agbaje and much to laugh at ... Fola with her leopard skin luggage telling Rita to clear up after her husband and criticising Rita, who is as thin as anything, for her supposed weight gain. Fola’s lack of espousal of feminist principles is highly comic. Also when we see the Chief get out the Rolex watch and the wads of money to be offered to Kayode as a bribe we laugh rather than are horrified at the extent of corruption.

We are not allowed to sit back in humour but shocked as the violent aspect of Nigerian elections is revealed. Kunle tells us that the chief is a product of his generation, “All crabs in a bucket fighting to get to the top.” Indhu Rubasingham directs and the noisy Nigerian market place is memorable and atmospheric, where Kayode is hailed as the “Obama of Nigeria.”

Lucian Msamati is always a delight to watch and here we see him in full chieftain robes in a fetching apricot broiderie anglaise lacy outfit. Noma Dumezweni has a serious part as she fights to get her husband back, and back to Britain.

The playwright touches on what it is to be British or Nigerian, where Rita and Kayode feel their future lies and has dedicated this play to her own family in Nigeria.

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Written by Bola Agbaje
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Starring: Lucian Msamati, Noma Dumezweni, Asjhley Zhangazha, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Pamela Nomvete
With Itoya Osagiede, Richard Pepple
Designer: Ben Stones
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth
Sound: David McSeveney
A Paines Plough production
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 2nd June 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th May 2012 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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