Theatre review: OC Ukeje, Bimbo Akintola & Taiwo Ajai-Lycett light up the stage in ‘Belong’

by Wilfred Okiche


‘Belong’, the latest major production from the Live Theatre on Sunday group did not make its debut on Sunday but that is a tiny detail only near-obsessives might pick up on. Directed by Tosan Ugbeye and sporting an all-star cast, representing different generations, ‘Belong’ is a fast-paced action tinged drama exploring various life affirming issues that concern today’s African. It plays as a political satire and a character study of the modern Afropolitan. ‘Belong’ also finds time to highlight the themes of racism, immigrant experience, corruption and hypocrisy that lies in the hearts of human beings. There is a lot going on but the script manages to distill a potentially confusing landscape into a primary domestic drama.

‘Belong’ played Saturday 19, April at the Federal Palace Hotel Victoria Island, Lagos. Opening in a stuffy middle class flat in London and climaxing back home at Ijebu-Ode in a large, welcoming family house, it is a rich potpourri of agenda driven ideas and subtle preachy moments.

Kayode (the prolific Toyin Oshinaike) and his wife Rita (Dolapo Oni) are not quite getting along after Kayode’s attempt to become a member of parliament goes up in smoke amidst allegations of racial discrimination. Unable to deal with the consequences and blaming everyone but himself, he hides out in his flat, licking his wounds and bemoaning his fate. It takes an intervention from a family friend, Fola (Bimbo Akintola) who may or may not have selfish motives of her own to get him back on his feet and on the next flight to Nigeria for a much needed change of environment.

The opening scenes quickly establish the tension between Kayode who moved to the UK but still fancies himself a Nigerian deep down and Rita whose parents are Nigerians but who would prefer to strip herself of all vestiges of the “dark continent”. In comes Fola to tilt the balance in favour of the home country and Rita finds herself outnumbered and out played.

Kayode arrives home to find that his mother,(the regal Taiwo Ajai-Lycett) an influential community leader who is in the habit of picking up and harboring stray kids has adopted a former street urchin Kunle (OC Ukeje) as her latest rehabilitation project. Kunle wants to become a councillor and in a bid to achieve his ambitions, has to secure the support of the local godfather, Chief Olowolaiye. An encounter with Olowolaiye convinces Kayode that change cannot be possible while in bed with such a corrupt fellow and he throws his hat into the ring, declaring to run for the same post as his newest foster brother.

Kunle does not take this new development lightly and both men become bitter rivals. Chief Olowolaiye also does not find this encouraging and decides on some actions that lead to tragic consequences. Meanwhile Fola has convinced Rita to join her husband in Nigeria and her unexpected arrival coincides with the ugly turn of events.

‘Belong’ sports a fabulous ensemble cast and each character is tailored to suit the actor playing them. They all work as a team and no one is in a hurry to outshine the others. Dolapo Oni is okay as the selfish Londoner wife bored with her husband’s questionable decisions and Taiwo Ajai-Lycett is divine as the matriarch of the family. Few performers find as much joy in their craft as she does and she infects the audience with her joy and energy. OC Ukeje does not quite master the Yoruba accent but he nails his character’s conflicts to a tee, delivering some of the most emotional moments of the play. Toyin Oshinaike is sturdy in what is perhaps the main lead role and Bimbo Akintola and Tunji Sotimirin gamely play along, providing some big laughs.

It is not all talk though as the script (by Bola Agbaje) tries to engage the audience in a little eye candy with a finely choreographed fight scene and a suggestive tease dance move from Oni’s character. It gets into trouble when the tiresome campaigning and speech making take centre stage but recovers deftly.

Stage management was not without the few down sides but the overall production, fine writing and seasoned acting made all the difference. The end was a bit abrupt but ensured the running time did not linger unnecessarily. Pity there were not more people to partake in the experience.

The writer tweets from @drwill20

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