The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre is a laboratory of theatre, it has its fair share of failed experiments BUT it can also work its alchemy and produce some really special and important golden theatrical pieces. Belong is one such golden nugget.
Bola Agbaje (whose play Three Blind Mice I saw last year) has written a powerful and resonant play. It follows the path of Kayode whose political aspirations come to a halt in the UK and on a trip home to Nigeria for a break, realises that perhaps his political calling is there.
His wife Rita, has her own views on this and what it means to be British and/or Nigerian as do his sister, mother and adopted brother. What follows is a tense, humorous and insightful journey into what it means for anyone of us to belong to any country, race or people.
However at no point does Bola Agbaje condescend to her audience or shirk away from uncomfortable portrayals of characters views and traits. The night I was there, a large proportion of Nigerians were in the audience, and they were audibly saying “people are just like that”, “that’s so true”. Despite the play featuring Nigerian references that I certainly didn’t get, at no point did I feel like an outsider, rather it made me think about my own identity.
What Bola Agbaje understands though is that a play should not be a soapbox, this is a piece of drama. It’s fast paced and had me guessing what would happen next. This is an entertaining play as well as one that gives you much food for thought, that is a RARE thing. She is an excellent dramatic writer. This play is full of colourful characters, tense emotions, well written and paced dialogue, and she realises that bad language is a dramatic device, it is never gratuitous or over the top but used to emphasise dramatic moments, and in one case close a scene with a HUGE laugh.
Thankfully her script is served by a cast who bring light, darkness and shade to their characters, each one is excellent, I especially liked Noma Dumezweni’s portrayal of her character Rita. Her speech on where she “belongs” is one of the most salient parts of the play.
I was really impressed by the simplicity of the set which seamlessly took us from London to a variety of locations in Nigeria, very clever and this helped keep the play’s pace moving. Well done to Ben Stone’s excellent design.
The play is sold out for its run at the Royal Court, which left me saddened as I think this play should be given as much opportunity to be seen as possible, so I was glad to see it will be on as part of the Royal Court’s Theatre Local run from 31st May to 23rd June. I suggest you get tickets for it there before it sells out again. At only £10 a ticket it is a BARGAIN to see top acting and a top play. I’m going to try and see it again I enjoyed it that much. It’s a brilliant play that has much to say to us all.
STARS : * * * * *