Thursday, 17 May 2012
To the Royal Court to see Bola Agbaje's Belong in the intimate theatre upstairs. It's a sharp edged little gem of a play, carefully crafted in twelve episodic scenes that follow former British MP Kayode, who, having suffered defeat at the general election returns to his native Nigeria to recharge his batteries, but quickly finds himself cast as the 'African Obama,' vowing to sort out political corruption and violence.
Lucian Msamati plays Kayode as a man driven to achieve, but caught between two competing worlds. His family back in Nigeria bemoan his lack of children and blame his long suffering wife Rita, played touchingly by Noma Dumezweni, who despite her own Nigerian heritage, has no inclination to return to Africa. It's quite a shock late in the piece to discover that it is she who has tempered her own maternal desires to support Kayode's political ambition.
Family and nation are the parallel themes of this work. The UK electorate rejects Kayode, so he reasserts his Nigerian identity, only to discover that his place in his mother's house has been usurped by Kunde, a young idealist, deeply embroiled in the tribal politics of Abuja. It's Kayode's struggle to balance his own re-education with a desire to impose a functioning democracy on local affairs that gives the play its tension and drive. Finally his inability to incorporate these two strands into a coherent political message leads to a bloody conclusion.
Despite the play's moral ending their is an optimistic undercurrent running through the work that suggests for all the displacement of the post-colonial diaspora, there is also an ability for subsequent generations to move fluidly from one cultural context to another. For ambitious self-made men like Kayode it's not a case of being neither one thing nor another, but rather an opportunity to be either as time and circumstance suggests. His triumph and tragedy is that he doesn't really care where he belongs.