Pros: A wonderfully written, heart-warming play.
Cons: Very difficult to fault this production! Maybe some of the most emotional scenes were mildly overdone.
I arrived at The Albany Theatre hungry. Not just normal hungry; hungry-hungry. Unfortunately, the café was out of food and after trudging around the neighbourhood in search of a meal and being repeatedly asked if I could be borrowed for the night, I soon retreated back into the theatre. I worried this would leave me with a negative taste in my mouth for the show, but it was an absurd fear. This was one of the best plays I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year.
The theatre itself is a surprisingly large metallic roundhouse that allows the audience to get very close to the actors and into their warm and inviting living room. Open suitcases hang from the ceiling with brightly coloured African fabrics spilling out to create pillars and walls. A warm household of yellowed lighting and rich reds and browns is displayed in front of the audience. Cheerful music plays, and more suitcases – both modern and dated – are dotted throughout the stage in various stages of packing.
We meet the Anyia family in a state of flurried excitement. The family – Mrs. Anyia, her dutiful married daughter, Grace, Grace’s Nigerian husband Dele, and prodigal daughter Anne (a ‘big barrister’ in New York) are all traveling back to Nigeria for the one year anniversary of their much-loved father’s death, while snake-oil pastor Mr. Emmanuel mills around the family providing his ‘support.’
From the beginning, it is evident that there are problems faced by the various members of the family—all of which are uncovered with wonderful delicacy. The sisters resent each other for the roles each have been forced (by pride or circumstance) to adopt for the family. Themes of guilt and grief are rife in the performance – guilt at turning one’s back on the family for success, guilt at lying to one’s husband and mother for fear of the honest feelings crushing the family, the shame at not having a good job, as well as the crushing grief distancing family members from each other—and it all tumbles together wonderfully into this production.
As deep-rooted and emotional as this performance is, it’s equally important to note that it is an incredibly funny evening of theatre. The humour resides predominately in the first half, as the second lends itself more to getting to the heart of the matter—but as an overall piece, the characters and cast are endearing, and wonderfully funny. The scenes mix emotional issues and a certain amount of heaviness with some side-splittingly funny bits of dialogue—the prayer at the “family” dinner is hysterical— and it forms a very well rounded examination of the trials and tribulations faced by the group.
The show is laced with stereotypes, most of which are delightfully and comically acknowledged. There is some sexual content, so might not be one for the kids, but it leads wonderfully to a genuinely funny climax – although perhaps not in the way you might be thinking.
The cast move well from humour to grittier substance, and work well together as a cohesive team. Lorna Gayle as Mrs Anyia is wonderful— bossy, naive, and yet completely loveable, with absolutely brilliant comedic timing. Anna-Maria Nabirye does very well with the emotional complexity and uncertainty of down-hearted Grace. In some instances, some of the more emotional scenes seem mildly overdone, but it really is hard to fault this production. As we moved on through the evening, a happy ending seemed more and more improbable, but somehow the finish to this play was lovely and hopeful. This is charming, funny, and heart-warming theatre.
Author: Janice Okoh
Director: Paul Bourne
Producer: Mhari Gallagher
Booking Until: Friday 28th March 2014
Box Office: 02086924446
Booking Link: http://www.thealbany.org.uk/event_detail/1107/Theatre/Egusi-Soup