Pros: A well written and solidly acted piece that successfully gives us something to think about.
Cons: The plot is stretched too thinly to fill an extra 20 minutes that isn’t needed.
The Arcola has set a high standard in presenting quality theatre and Pandora’s Box is no exception to the rule. The story centres on a family reunion in Lagos which is drawing to a close. Toyin, single mother to fifteen year old Timi, is agonising over a decision that will affect the rest of their lives. Does she return to London with Timi, or leave him in Nigeria to be educated in one of its top schools? A simple set decked out with sofas, luggage and two passports set the scene on the eve of Toyin’s departure. Her family certainly waste no time in having their say. Spoilt, rich sister Ronke and mother, Mama Ronke believe Timi is better off in Nigeria where he will benefit from a superior education and stay away from dark temptations in London. Toyin’s best friend Bev also agrees and wants to remain in Nigeria herself. Toyin’s Uncle Baba is the sage, world-weary voice of reason and compels her to think hard before she makes a decision. We also see Timi’s cousin Tope who is already at Timi’s potential school in Nigeria and was subjected to same processes that await Timi.
So over the course of one evening, Timi’s future will be settled by the warring factions within his family. Mama Ronke feels history is repeating itself. She faced the same dilemma when she came to London leaving daughter Ronke behind in Nigeria. Sister Ronke has mixed emotions as she does enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, yet still feels her mother abandoned her. Even so, both Ronkes are united in where Timi should live. Mama Ronke also fears for Timi’s safety in London, particularly in light of the growing gang culture; Bev thinks Timi will flourish in Nigeria because he won’t be defined by his blackness; Toyin is convinced he will still be an outsider because of his upbringing. Tope secretly longs to be back in London with his ‘homeboys’ but knows Nigeria is nurturing a positive future for him. Uncle Baba tries to remind everyone that neither London nor Lagos is perfect. But has anyone asked Timi how he feels? With the battle lines drawn, the school principal is pressing Toyin to sign the documentation before she leaves.
The play deftly explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter as two cultures divide the family between London and Lagos. Ade Solanke is a skillful playwright with a unique take on how dual heritage can place a family into conflict. However, with a running time of one hour fifty minutes, the play felt slightly stretched and spent too much time cornering only one essential issue in the story. Having said that, there were some fine performances, particularly Esther Uwejeyah as Toyin and Edward Kagutuzi as Timi; but for me, the acting honours should go Tunde Euba as Uncle Baba, who turns in an endearing performance as the family’s conscience and brain. An absorbing, memorable play that truly makes you care about its characters and their destinies.
Author: Ade Solanke
Directors: Shade Oladiti
Producers: Spora Stories and the Jon Harris Partnership
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/tickets-for/arcola/pandoras-box-by-ade-solanke
Booking until: 1 November 2014