Little Baby Jesus by Arinze Kene & Fixer by Lydia Adetunji (Theatre Reviews)
The Oval House theatre has established itself as a venue for international playwriting, where playwrights from different parts of the world can come and share their stories. With its innovative new performance work that celebrates the diversity of cosmopolitan London, it has given us productions like Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe (Two Gentlemen of Verona) with a Zimbabwean twist and Every Year, Every day, I am Walking, all the way from South Africa.
While I have not made a habit of seeing everything the Oval House Theatre puts on its stage for there are other theatre venues in London to stalk, I’m yet to be disappointed by what I have seen so far. The Oval House prides itself as a venue that “invests in stories you will not hear anywhere else and in artists too uncompromising for the mainstream.” I think it may have just achieved that feat with its London via Lagos festival of plays, which explores the relationship between Britain and Nigeria. “As Lagos grows ever more influential as a world city, and London as a world capital, London via Lagos reveals the political, personal and the domestic stories found where these two great cultures meet,” says the London via Lagos website. With Little Baby Jesus by actor and playwright, Arinze Kene and Fixer by Lydia Adetunji, the Oval House responds to an audience that is fast becoming an integral part of the UK cultural landscape.
Little Baby Jesus is a fast paced, ‘lyrical triptych’ of monologues chronicling the lives of three teenage students, Kehinde, Joanne and Rugrat. Individually, they tell us of their adventures, mischief, fears and all that’s involved with being a young adult. I am sure you remember the first girl or boy you had a crush on at school and the courage it took to step up to them. Or the first major beef you had with the girl, no one dared to cross or the school yard bully. Kene makes sure we relive those moments through his characters. A trio of three strong intertwined narratives and confident voices, we hear a first hand account of their rites of passage journey and experiences, until they finally reach that junction, we all get to and know for sure that it is time to become an adult and stop trifling.
Kehinde (Fiston Barek), Rugrat (Akemnji Ndifernyan) and Joanne (Seroca Davis) are complex personalities we recognise in ourselves and those around us for their individual idiosyncratic nature stands out. Rugrat, as the name mildly implies, is the loudest mouth of them all, you know the kind that knows what’s going down after school hours and who is setting who and what up. Joanne, who has life in experienced foster care, is incredibly matured for her age but her attitude, let’s agree that she knows how spell and define RUDE. And Kehinde, the level headed one, speaks so highly of his twin, Taiwo, you are drawn to his innocence and want to know him more. A riveting and animated narrative, Kene delivers a powerful set of characters who give us insight into what it means to be a young black man or woman, with an African heritage, growing up in an inner-city area of London in its rawest form.
Fixer by Lydia on the other hand is world apart and delves into the world of geo-politics with its exploration of oil bunkering and the overdrive of PRs and journalists to control the story. Set in Northern Nigeria, where militants have attacked an oil pipeline, the race is on to ensure damage control by the Prs and for the journalists, the ultimate prize, best scoop of the year that will give them front page news and make their careers. Amidst this, the story of the local populace and the effect such militancy is having on their lives or the fact that have never benefitted from the oil b being drilled from their soil is overlooked. However, for both camps, Prs and Journalists to get to the story and militants, they need a local fixer and this is where Chuks, Independent Facilitator Extraordinaire comes into the picture.
Chuks (Ricahrd Pepple) is a versatile businessman in an unscrupulous field of work and knows how to play his cards right. But will this be his demise? Adetunji aptly brings to the fore the intense competition between journalists to get a story, maybe this comes from her days as a journalist. That said, she questions the motives behind the stories they tell. And in this instance, you sense that it is a narrative that suites their interest and definition of objectivity. It is not the story of people they leave behind when the story goes to print.
An intense portrayal about one of the problems that has plagued Nigeria in recent years, Fixer is a stark reminder that sometimes, journalism and journalists forget the ‘real stories’ they should tell in their pursuit of what would make a good headline and give them a memorable by-line. Adetunji’s dialogue is sharp and witty and her characters effortlessly bring human frailties and selfishness to light. Fixer is a night of sheer brilliance.
Images by Robert Day
Little Baby Jesus is directed by Che Walker.
Fixer is directed by Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe
Fixer is currently showing at the Oval Hosue Theatre and ends on 10 July.
For more information go to: LondonviaLagos