The Clinic

Reviewer's rating

When one article in the programme is about “racial inequalities in the NHS”, and the other one is titled “class and the black community: it’s complicated”, you know you’re in for a “speech and debate” evening, where the topical political issues and arguments are the main event, and the plot if there is any, is just patched somehow around them. We’ve seen it recently in Roy William’s play “The Fellowship” at Hampstead theatre, which also dealt with a black family, like “The clinic”. Both plays are angry and bursting with heartfelt, well, speeches and debates about “the situation”, this hostile world (and especially England) we’re living in, and the dire state of “the community”, as everyone keeps calling it, meaning the black community. Both are about the need to do something about it instead of just moaning and complaining, but both unfortunately are rich with talk and quite poor with action. Theatrical action, at least.

In Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play, each and every one of the characters is deeply frustrated. Ore (Gloria Obianyo) is a young doctor, trying to make a change in the dying system of the NHS and failing miserably; her mother, Tiwa (Donna Berlin) is a volunteer in a women’s shelter and feels unfulfilled and undervalued by her psychiatrist/author husband Segan (Maynard Eziashi) who has his own marital frustrations. Both have a Nigerian background that is hardly acknowledged; Their son, Bayo (Simon Manyonda) is a policeman who’s frustrated for being accused as a “bad black” –  instead of helping his brothers he sends them to jail. His own sister calls him a “coon”, and his own wife, Labour MP Amina (Mercy Ojelade) is also fed up with him, even though she suffers similar accusations from her constituents. She can’t cope with her job anymore and is super-frustrated with her party, and with politics in general. Like Ore, she finds it impossible to change the world and do good. She may be the master complainer of the whole lot, even more than the suicidal Wunmi (Toyin Ayedun-Alase), a recently widowed mother of a baby.

Wunmi is the beating heart of the play. She is a walking wildfire (there are plenty of fire images in the play, assisted by the impressive light design by Matt Haskins); an activist fighting hard for her “community” (that word again) but gradually selling out like the rest of them. “Don’t sell me dreams”, she asks of someone (no spoilers) but goes on to dream big about a life of luxury of comfort for her and her son, as the one Tiwa and Segan built for themselves, even though they’re “Tories” that represent everything she’s fighting against. This is a family that gives political speeches instead of saying “hello” or “good morning”, and in the last ten minutes of the play too many things happen all at once, almost farcically. A sharp knife appears at some point, but there’s no real sense of danger.

The acting is perfect all around and elevates the otherwise imperfect play. Sad point: the next two shows at the Almeida are completely sold out (both have nothing to do with the black community) while “The Clinic” is far from it. Maybe there’s not a big audience for “black plays”. Or maybe it’s time to focus more on the theatre (like the classic plays “A raisin in the sun” and “Fences”) and a bit less on the speeches, as important and urgent as they are.