Belong is what we all want to do, but the question is, where? Bola Agbaje’s Belong channels her familiar preoccupations with nationhood and identity in the career crisis of a middle-aged politician, Kayode, torn between England and Nigeria.
Kayode’s career as a British MP has gone belly-up in a twitter storm following alleged racist comments in a parliamentary election. He goes “home” to Nigeria, supposedly to rest up, but finds himself fighting corruption and standing for office in tribal costume.
As always with this writer – Belong is Agbaje’s third Royal Court play since she emerged from the Young Writers’ Festival with Gone Too Far! in 2007 – there’s a bright, hard edge to the short, sharp scenes, which cover a lot of ground in 90 minutes.
But the bones are perhaps a little too obtrusive: it’s time now for more flesh on the arguments, more detail in the characterisations. More words, in fact, and more paragraphs, fewer Yoruba slogans.
We learn too little of Kayode’s change of heart after a rousing speech on the hustings in a busy street market scene – populated entirely by the cast of six – and Lucian Msamati, elsewhere too often suspended in a wordless void as Kayode, is left quivering with ambiguous helplessness at the end, after a shocking act of political retribution.
Indhu Rubasingham’s production, co-presented with British African company Tiata Fahodzi, certainly puts plenty of zip into the proceedings, and there’s a clever design by Ben Stones which moves easily, with sliding panels, from Kayode’s living room to his mother’s kitchen and dining room, complete with African paintings.
And there’s a fascinating conflict between Kayode and the young “brother” Kunle (Ashley Zhangazha) he finds on his own doorstep in Nigeria, the politically aspirational adoptive son to his mother once her biological son left for Britain.
Whatever Kayode now believes in, it’s clear that Agbaje herself is sceptical of this re-born presidential “African Obama”
making a real difference, despite re-rehearsing his Michael Jackson moves on the kitchen floor. And will he recover his soul after losing it, his mother insists, in the English weather?