Belong | image credit Alistair Muir
Western Europe, Western Africa and the corrupt nature of politics.
Having failed miserably in his political campaign, Kayode langours in his plush London flat surrounded by empty take away cartons. Having been dubbed a coconut by the black community his reputation lies in tatters strewn across the pages of twitter. Convinced he needs a holiday he returns Nigeria to recuperate but is not met with the open arms he anticipated; his western manners and English accent see him dismissed as no more than a muggy headed foreigner.
Bola’s Agbaje’s political drama exposes the corruption and double standards within both the British and Nigerian political systems whilst neatly exploring the complex issue of dual ethnicity.
As Kayode’s eyes are opened to the reality of Nigeria’s fraudulent political system the prodigal son decides to run in the local election, putting forth an Obama inspired ‘Light up Nigeria’ campaign. But in a country where money and violence are the primary means of control, Kayode soon realises that in order to succeed he will have to play the game.
Belong | Lucian Msamati (Kayode), Richard Pepple (Chief Olowolaye) | image credit Alistair Muir
Bola’s Agbaje’s political drama exposes the corruption and double standards within both the British and Nigerian political systems whilst neatly exploring the complex issue of dual ethnicity. Kayode, played with tenacity and controlled energy by Lucian Msamati is too African to win the British vote but too ‘Hinglish’ to be accepted back into the country of his birth. Nigeria in 2012 is controlled through an infrastructure of bribery and physical force which is starkly represented by Chief Olowolaye.
This ostentatious business man played by Richard Pepple exchanges thick rolls of bank notes for allegiance and anyone standing in his way will be crushed under his crocodile skin shoes. Despite the unjust nature of this setup, in Ijebu-Ode the Chief’s methods are accepted, even admired. His young protégé Kunle, played with optimistic vigour by Ashley Zhangaza, dreams of revolutionising Nigeria, but unlike westernised Kayode he understands that this can only be achieved through the systems already in place.
Belong | Noma Dumezweni (Rita), Jocelyn Jee Esien (Fola) Photo by Alastair Muir | image credit Alistair Muir
The female roles in the production are incredibly strong; Kayode’s mother played by Pamela Nomvette is filled with hope for the future of her country. Punctuating her sentences with great sweeps of her arm and claps of her hands she is a proud matriarch. Her patriotism is shared by Jocelyn Jee Esien’s Fola, who’s convinced that Nigeria is on the cusp of being the next global superpower.
Shimmying around the stage in her colourful outfits she expounds Nigeria’s superiority to England but appears to approve of the UK’s chocolate bar offerings. Rita is a fascinatingly developed character played with humour and restraint by Noma Dumezweni.
Born on English soil she does not share her husband’s sense of displacement. Her London flat and handbag boutique are her world and despite Fola’s constant assertions that a black person can never be accepted in Britain, British is the ethnicity with which Rita resolutely identifies.
Agbaje’s play is a deeply profound and comprehensive dramatic work. Successfully representing different perspectives of the Nigerian Diaspora with sensitivity and intelligence the playwright lucidly demonstrates how a person’s race is much more than skin deep. An incredibly powerful production.
Belong is at the Royal Court Theatre until May 26, 2012
Belong transfers to Peckham for Theatre Local from 31 May to 23 June, 2012
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Bola Agbaje, Belong
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Lucian Msamati, Belong, Tiata Fahodzi