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Review: Umuada, at King’s Head Theatre

Production that follows 24 hours in the life of a Nigerian-British family, deftly tackles mental health in the African diaspora, migration, intergenerational relationships and motherhood

12 July, 2018 — By Billie Manning

A play that’s ‘going places’ – Umuada at the King’s Head. Photo: Damsel Productions

“AT what point do we forget who we are? Know where we are?”

Umuada, meaning first-born daughters in Igbo, is written and directed by Justina Kehinde. The play takes place over 24 hours, as daughters Tolu (Tayo Elesin) and Nike (Jess Layde) try to throw their mother Anwu (Tomi Ogunjobi) a 60th birthday party in the absence of their brother, Chi, who is struggling with mental health problems, and their father, who is in Nigeria building a house that never seems to get finished.

Though physically absent, the presence of the men pervades the house and weighs upon the women.

The play tackles a lot: mental health in the African diaspora; migration; intergenerational relationships; and above all, motherhood. But it manages this range deftly, with emotion and humour.

Tomi Ogunjobi is charming from the outset, landing each line with aplomb. As we build towards the climax of the play, she displays fantastic range, leading to an acutely heartbreaking final scene.

The set is perfectly kitted out with little symbols of Nigerian-British family life, adding to the intimacy of the scenes, and the scene changes are punctuated with answerphone messages from Anwu’s absent husband, which is a nice touch.

The play does finish suddenly; it leaves you wishing for more. But this is exactly what Kehinde intends to give us. After the Playmill run, which runs until July 21, she is crowdfunding so that she and the play’s dramaturge, Yosola Olorunshola, can conduct more research and develop the play even further. Keep an eye out – this is a play that is going places.

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