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By Uchenna Izundu


Monday, June 01, 2009.


Oladipo Agboluaje’s ‘Iyà-Ilé’ (‘The First Wife’) is set in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1989 where the Adeyemi family provides an insight into the trials and tribulations of a wealthy and connected family that is teetering on the brink of a political revolution in Naija (Nigeria). Everyone here is – I Too Know – struggling to overcome someone else’s fickle whim.


A wonderful blend of Yoruba, pidgin, Naija English, and Queen’s English; this ruckus of a drama where the attitudes are big and the head ties of the madams are even bigger. Chief Adeyemi (Jude Akuwudike) is initially portrayed as a downtrodden bumbling man who is eager to appease his sulking wife Toyin (Antonia Okonma).


But as this exuberant play progresses, humorous references to the social unrest and military dictatorship gives way to a menacing undertone. Adeymi is indeed a serial adulterer and wife-beater who pressurizes Toyin to accept a political position so that they can enjoy their privileged lifestyles. Their sons, a naive revolutionary and an eager beaver amoral Cassonova, are pursuing their own hapless agendas against this chaotic backdrop.


Although Toyin is a housewife obsessed with morals, order and appearances, she is a harsh employer who beats her house-girl, Helen (Estella Daniels), for minor transgressions and inevitably creates an enemy within her home. As Toyin prepares to celebrate her 40th birthday, tensions increase between her and Chief to realize his political ambitions, which culminates in a violent and bloody throw down. The ending is powerful: Helen is transformed from a quiet and manipulative house girl into a powerful and assertive madam.


Agboluaje’s play is the prequel to the critically acclaimed ‘The Estate’ where Helen is preparing for Chief’s funeral.  Femi Elufowoju Jr’s production is comic, lively, and intense. The cast work well together and Chucky Venn who plays local evangelist Archbishop Billy Robertson represents the corruption of the church in maintaining the dictatorship status quo. He is critical that Chief’s fortune was built on imports, at the expense of local trade: “I bet you used to eat Uncle Ben’s,” he sneers.


This is a physical comedy with plenty of gags, stylish dance moves, and the reminiscent beats of Fela Kuti.  A soap opera of scope and vitality, there does need to be some tighter plotting and greater character development of Pakimi, the driver in the Adeyemi household who is Helen’s poor lover.


It is fabulous to see a slice of a Nigeria on stage; the transition from its 1980s military regime to civilian rule doused with comedy and melancholy.


Chy, oh! I beg, mek you get your tickets quick quick; dis one you go enjoy well well.


Uchenna Izundu is a journalist, editor and writer. She co-chairs Aspire, a support network for Black and minority ethnic journalists in the UK. She lives in London.



Soho Theatre

Until June 20

Box office Tel 0870 429 6883

Review by Uchenna Izundu



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