Pros: Cheerful, summery music and excellent dancing.
Cons: If you’re unfamiliar with the afrobeats culture you might want to give this one a miss.
If you go to the theatre a lot you’ll sometimes find yourself attending a show that clearly wasn’t meant for you. This is a feeling I experienced last night during my visit to afrobeats musical Oliva Tweest at the beautiful Hackney Empire.
For those who, like myself before seeing this show, are not familiar with the genre, afrobeats is a combination of traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music, funk and jazz. Oliva Tweest incorporates hits by well-known afrobeats artists in a story based on the lyrics of another popular song, D’Banj’s Oliver Twist. The main character is Tobi (Tolulope ‘Tboy’ Ogunmefun) a womanising young man who lives with his mother and is having trouble with ‘flavour of the month’ Keisha (Hannah Lindo). When hanging out at his favourite club Tobi meets nightclub singer by night/pastor’s daughter by day Testimony (Vicky Sola), who is not interested in his advances. Tobi however is not deterred by this at all, and attempts to win Testimony over.
As is probably to be expected of a two-hour show based on one song, the storyline is rather thin. The characters are stereotypical, which makes it difficult to put much stock in Tobi’s sudden development from player into boyfriend material, especially since the former part of his personality gets so much attention. In case you were wondering, he’s nicknamed Oliver Twist because he’s always asking if he “can have some more”, just replace gruel with women.
At least, that’s what I took away from it. Since I have absolutely zero knowledge of 1) the afrobeats genre, 2) the accompanying culture and 3) the Nigerian language, most of the jokes and references, possibly some plot points as well, went straight over my head. The rest of the audience was much more appreciative, clapping, singing and laughing along enthusiastically.
While I didn’t know any of the songs, the music was infectiously upbeat. Moreover, it was played by a large live band, a rare treat these days. There was some excellent singing too, especially by Sola, although due to the less than precise sound mixing it was sometimes hard to hear the vocalists over the band. Between scenes there was room for energetic dance performances by the G.O.P. Dancers, accompanied by a number of actors, which livened up the show and drew gasps of amazement and appreciation from the audience.
Overall, it was a fun if somewhat baffling evening, that left me wondering where to place this show. In terms of its over-the-top characters, humour and interactivity it reminded me of a pantomime, although considering my unfamiliarity with the lingo I might be mistaken in this. For the novice it’s a bit too ambitious an introduction into the afrobeats genre, but the more seasoned fan will probably have an excellent time at this cheerful show that gives a voice to a group of young people woefully underrepresented in the British musical world.
Author: Nana Duncan
Director: Yinka Ayinde
Musical Director: Jason Charles-Nelson
Booking Until: This production has finished its run.