The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives Review

Arcola Theatre – until 21 July

Reviewed by Claire Roderick

4****

Baba Segi’s three wives are happy and settled in his Nigerian household, but this all changes when he sets his mind on young university graduate Bolanie becoming his fourth wife. Rotimi Babatunde’s stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s novel is an energetic and uplifting production that is full of belly laughs.

Presented on an empty stage, with the floor covered in rattan, the production has the feel of a family storytelling session, with the cast, dressed in gloriously colourful outfits, sitting around watching the action. This atmosphere is enhanced by the uplifting musical accompaniment from the cast, and the communal singing and dancing bookending scenes. The leather armchairs that senior members of the family use are in the front row of the audience, blurring the divide.

The wives all have monologues to showcase their characters and their reasons for marrying Baba Segi, and Jumoké Fashola, Christina Oshunniyi and Layo-Christina Akinlude all create individual and memorable women. Marcy Dolapo Oni ensures Bolanie’s more modern world outlook is always apparent in her reactions and is devastating when Bolanie reveals her true reasons for marrying Baba Segi to her mother. Baba Segi is a ludicrous character, cartoonish in his patriarchal attitudes, but the wonderful Patrice Nalambana manages to keep Baba Segi sympathetic, revealing glimpses of his insecurities and fears amongst the peacock strutting, clowning and expert playing to the audience.

After two years of marriage and no child, Baba Segi is convinced that there is something wrong with Bolanie, but instead of going to see “Teacher”, she insists on an appointment at the hospital, unwittingly setting into motion events that will change Baba Segi’s household forever. The culture clash of modern and traditional ideas and customs is omnipresent and the source of many jokes, with Baba Segi’s solo hospital appointment bringing howls of laughter. There are a few dramatic moments of tragedy which darken the tale, reminding the audience (as if they could ever forget) of the misogyny of this patriarchal society – Baba Segi isn’t slow to use his fists if he thinks his honour is being sullied by his wives, although Bolanie’s final monologue does a little to redress the balance with her declaration of freedom.

An evening of laughs and scandal, this is a vibrant visual and musical treat of a show that should not be missed.

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