"London, is the place for me!" That was the refrain made popular by calypso singer Lord Kitchener in the post-war 50s. But for many Caribbean and African descendants, this appears to no longer be the case. In a 21st century reversal, young men and women brought up in England are being sent back to Africa, back to the "motherland" to improve their lot and education - or so playwright Ade Solanke has noticed.
In her latest offering, Pandora's Box, we find Londoner Toyin, who has brought her nearly 16 year-old son Timi to Lagos, planning to leave him in a boarding school which will keep him off London's streets. "They're not safe," says her friend, Bev, who's come along for the ride, with plans of her own to stay in Nigeria's capital and prosper. Even as her mother Pandora and Nigerian-raised sister Sis Ronke say she's doing the right thing, while she packs Timi's bags, Toyin's having second thoughts. Will parting with him really be best for her son? What is riding on her decision is made all the clearer by her own mother's history, leaving Toyin's older sister behind in Lagos.
Pandora's Box bursts with easy references placing it in a long line of artists to deal with the African/Western experience- from the "second class citizen" seen in Sam Selvon's novel of the same name, to the pop culture of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Damien Marley's Welcome to Jamrock. The show's strength and warmth nearly falters because its emotional core, Toyin, is played by Anna-Marie Nabirye so flatly, we simply don't believe in her maternal struggle.
Luckily things are rescued by funny, illuminating scenes between Timi (an almost too Kevin & Perry-style teen Bradley John) and the top Damson Idris as his once London-hip, now boarding school convert, cousin Tope. "Don't be stupid," Tope tells his gangsta-aspiring "cuz". Following hot on the heels of every poignant moment is a belly laugh, whether it's from witty observations of Nigerian social tics or exclamations, the "sha" or "ah ah", nailed by fiery Sis Ronke and the zany, articulate uncle Baba (Olatunji Sotimirin).
Director Ola Animashawun has judged the comic pace well, keeping things bold and bright. We're never allowed to wallow, just get on with things - which eventually is just what Toyin decides to do.
- Vicky Ellis