The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Image by Idil Sukan

Daniel Nelson

If you want a touch of Nigeria go to the Arcola Theatre and watch the Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives.

Did I write "a touch"? Make that a blast, an explosion, a joyous rambunctious starburst, or perhaps more appropriately, a spectacular ejaculation.

"Bolanle, i remember the day I met her ... just over two years ago," begins Rotimi Babatunde's celebratory adaptation of Lola Shoneyin's prize-winning novel. And from that deceptively simple opening erupts a funny, tragic, scabrous tale of family life.

But what a tale. Baba Segi gradually accumulates wives ("My God, your breasts are so big! They would do me for a lifetime") and seven children. Each wife has a different story of how she came into contact with the patriarch's mighty organ. But with university-educated, apparently barren wife No.4 , Bolanle, the household takes what the blurb writers call "an unexpected turn".

In truth, the turn is a little obvious but that hardly matters because this production has more than enough verve and vitality, drive and drama, to trample over such weaknesses. Director and cast power the piece, which is performed in the round with imagination and enough energy to light up an entire Yoruba town. Further propulsion is provided by a range of instruments, including thumb piano, Apala drum and Fulani flute.

Baba Segi himself is (brilliantly) played as a bit of a buffoon and the story stems from the wives' motivations and behaviour as they use and are affected by their positions in the household ("Men are like yam: you cut them how you like"). Sex, wanted and unwanted, is a constant factor, but producing children is the key. Rape, lesbianism, traditional and modern medicine also get a look in.

In the end, patriarchy gets its comeuppance - partly. It is clear, though not overtly spelt out in the play, that patriarchy depends on women's financial independence, particularly when motherhood is rated so highly and monotheistic religions condemn childbirth outside marriage. So Baba Segi's wives are trapped even when the household collapses. Bolanle's education gives her a way out, but even that is a risky route.

* The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, £12-£26, is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 until 21 July. Info: 7503 1646/ https:// www. arcolatheatre. com

blog comments powered by Disqus