Set in present-day Nigeria, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a vibrant and energetic exploration of gender politics as the arrival of Bolanle (Baba Segi’s fourth wife), and the secret she uncovers about his harem, threaten to shake his patriarchal household’s foundations.
In the round is the perfect staging for the play, allowing the seamlessly synced ensemble to infect the audience with their unrelenting vitality. The minimalist set gave the splendidly attired actors the freedom to set the scene themselves in a society which showcases a vastly differing attitude to the status of woman in different families. The actors all remained on stage, assuming different roles throughout – maintaining the sense of community that is essential for the depiction of such a large, patchwork family while, through monologues and duologues, enabling individual characters’ stories to flourish.
Baba’s wives marry him either through force or as a means of escape. Jumoké Fashola is a powerful force on stage as his headstrong first wife, Iya Segi. Childlike Iya Tope is captured poignantly by Christina Oshunniyi as a moving contrast to her, given to Baba by her father in lieu of his failed crops. Meanwhile Lay-Christina Akinlude brings contagious sassiness to the role of his third wife Iya Femi, Iya Segi’s close accomplice in their plot to be rid of Bolanle’s intrusive appearance. When Bolanle discovers she cannot become pregnant, Baba Segi’s obsessive need to find the reason takes the whole family, seven children included, on a journey to the discovery that his first three wives may not have been as loyal as he imagined.
Marcy Dolapo Oni brings a real freshness to the university-educated and kind-hearted Bolanle and ended the piece with a beautifully fine-tuned calm and hopeful note. But it is Patrice Naiambana who truly commands the stage as Baba Segi, with his fantastically expressive eyes, rich voice, and irresistible power to make the audience laugh even in the saddest moments of the performance.
Femi Elufowoju jr’s direction is highly inventive, for example when the flashback to a rape scene is sharply and disturbingly conveyed with a red cushion held by the perpetrator. The musical dimension is deployed with particular effectiveness, invigorating the scene changes through the chorus’s vocal and percussive accompaniment.
Rotimi Babatunde has adapted Lola Shoneyin’s novel to create a wonderful mix of comedy and drama. Although it takes a moment to find the story at the beginning, the play deals with personal disaster in a well-balanced way that subtly touches on tragic themes and still leaves the audience thinking at the end.
The mantra that ‘men are like yam, you cut them how you like’ defines the atmosphere of the piece. The society depicted is inescapably phallocentric, but women take power for themselves in their own secretive way – a model that Bolanle manages to escape when she leaves the seraglio to continue her ‘life’s path’.
- By Lola Shoneyin, adapted for the stage by Rotimi Babatunde
- Directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr.
- Cast includes: Layo-Christina Akinlude, Marcy Dolapo Oni, Jumoké Fashola, Patrice Naiambana, Christina Oshunniyi
- Arcola Theatre
- Until 21st July 2018
- Time: 19:30. Matinees: Saturdays and Wednesday 18th July 15:00