Theatre re­view Spec­tac­u­lar por­trayal of swag­ger and dar­ing

The Se­cret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Arifa Ak­bar

‘S ir, you will de­posit your sperm in­side,” a hospi­tal nurse in­structs Baba Segi as she hands him a beaker. He – a po­lyg­a­mist and par­a­digm of chau­vin­is­tic brag­gado­cio – in­sists he does not need a fertility test and that it is his fourth wife who needs to be ex­am­ined, for “bar­ren­ness”.

He is told to leave his de­posit in the con­tainer any­way, and with that be­gins a mas­tur­ba­tion scene of such epic and eye-wa­ter­ingly Ra­belaisian pro­por­tions that it be­comes the show-stop­ping moment in a pro­duc­tion filled with sex­ual swag­ger and sen­sa­tional dar­ing.

Based on Lola Shoneyin’s best­selling 2011 novel, The Se­cret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is set in an en­clave of mod­ern-day Nige­ria where tribal cus­tom and witch­craft still rub up against ra­tio­nal­ity and sci­ence. Os­ten­si­bly about polygamy in old Africa, it is a far more univer­sal story of the shift­ing power-play within a mar­riage and sex­ual envy be­tween women.

When the youngest and most ed­u­cated wife, Bolanle (Marcy Do­lapo Oni), en­ters the scene, the other three women plot mur­der­ous schemes against her, like Mac­beth’s witches. This adap­ta­tion, by the award-win­ning writer Ro­timi Ba­batunde, cap­tures the com­pli­cated gen­der dy­nam­ics: his ram­pant misog­yny, their oc­ca­sional misandry, and the quiet, sub­ver­sive power they wield in­side his house­hold.

The direc­tor, Femi Elu­fowoju Jr, re­cently staged a live read­ing of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, pris­ing out the text’s satire and treat­ing the misog­y­nis­tic char­ac­ters with an arch, ironic hu­mour. He does the same here, mer­ci­lessly send­ing up Baba Segi (Pa­trice Na­iambana) as a crude buf­foon.

What makes the pro­duc­tion so bold is its un­abashedly physical treat­ment of sex: the wives are spotlit in fla­grante, grind­ing them­selves on their lovers in a state of ec­stasy. But there are bed­room scenes in which Baba Segi brutishly thrusts legs apart and paws at pained bod­ies, and in these mo­ments, the rib­ald hu­mour plunges into sav­agery.

One scene drama­tises Bolanle’s rape at the age of 15 be­fore flip­ping back to com­edy; the same switch fol­lows a child’s sud­den death. The shifts from light to dark and back again give the per­for­mance a dan­ger­ous and un­pre­dictable un­der­cur­rent.

The stag­ing is stripped back yet in­ven­tive, with the light­ing and chore­og­ra­phy cre­at­ing a vis­ual po­etry: fig­ures crouched on the floor morph into sway­ing wheat­fields; women swathed in red be­come the gi­ant, gy­rat­ing back­side of a sexy street-seller in a les­bian fan­tasy; char­ac­ters in an imag­i­nary car be­gin danc­ing jaun­tily to its move­ments, as if in a Dick Van Dyke mu­si­cal.

The play’s en­ergy never dips and the ac­tors, dou­bling up re­peat­edly in their roles, give nu­anced, charis­matic per­for­mances. The ef­fect is noth­ing short of spec­tac­u­lar.

The Se­cret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is at the Ar­cola un­til 21 July. Box office: 020 7503 1646

▲ Marcy Do­lapo Oni as Bolanle and Pa­trice Na­iambana as Baba Segi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.