REVIEW: HIGH LIFE
By Karla Williams
Tuesday, October 13, 2009.
As well as being shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award in 2007, High Life was also performed in part at the Tiata Fahodzi’s weeklong festival during the same year. Now Lizzy Dijeh’s debut play sees a full production at London’s Hampstead Theatre and this piece makes a welcome change to the prevailing trends in plays depicting Black British culture.
Set in East London’s Nigerian community, High Life tells the story of the Omoro and Otulu families as they struggle to accept the suicide of eldest daughter Tola Otulu. Having often spent time with her husband Mighty Omoro, Chinwe suspects that he had something to do with her death. But being too ashamed to face Ira and Ikeye Otulu - and too scared to dig deeper to uncover the truth - Chinwe is trapped in a difficult position with only Reverend Isaac for guidance. However she is yet to look to her only son Christopher, who was also often alone with the teenager.
High Life is an enjoyable story and it is refreshing to see a young black writer tackling a subject that doesn’t fall under the heading, ‘black people’s issues’. More often than not, contemporary plays by or featuring Afro-Caribbean writers and actors focus on subjects apparently specific to black culture. The tendency is for drama which seems to only extend to, temptation or involvement in crime; the fight to survive as a black person in a white society or pieces which include the now obligatory ‘street talk’.
High Life depicted a revealing domestic drama that, while set in an Anglo-Nigerian home, contains topic easily transferable to any family - its themes of reputation, secrecy and pride are culturally universal. Critically however, the first half needs editing as the length is far too long in comparison with the movement of the plot.
Director Olusola Oyeleye could also work at maintaining the pace of the narrative which dropped at times; and the scene changes on an unnecessarily detailed set proved a distraction.
Most impressive were the performance of Golda John as Chinwe Omoro. Hers was an utterly believable character struggling with personal shame and guilt, and only trying to do what’s was best. Also while his role was small, young actor Tobi Bakare stood out as Christopher Omoro.
With some editing of the script and perhaps a less meticulous set, the strengths of this family drama would undoubtedly be amplified as it aims to represent a different face of Black British society.
High Life by Lizzy Dijeh
Directed by Olusola Oyeleye
@ Hampstead Theatre until 17th October
Cast includes: Golda John, Tobi Bakare, Malachi Kirby, Richard Pepple and Reginald Ofodile.
Karla Williams is a London-based journalist and writer.