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Egusi Soup (tour - Cambridge, Mumford Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It’s over two years since Janice Okoh’s play Egusi Soup was first workshopped with a script-in-hand performance by Menagerie. Since then it has been re-written, re-cast and given a full production by Paul Bourne, is set for a London season at the Soho Theatre and will also be seen in Colchester next month.

Looking up my notes from October 2009, I see that I thought it overlong. That’s still my impression as it plays out in a succession of short scenes using a three-room setting (Louie Whitemore) for an interval-less two hours. The plot concerns a family with Nigerian roots preparing to return to their village in that country for a memorial service a year after the death of the household’s head.

He exerts a powerful influence from beyond the grave. His widow Mrs Anyia is concerned that her two daughters not only show a proper respect but are seen to have fulfilled their father’s ambitions for them. But one daughter, Anne, is a high-flying lawyer just brought down to earth by a catastrophically unprofessional relationship and the other, Grace, has given up her career in favour of an edgy marriage of the sort where a couple talks but never really communicates.

If the pastor is more concerned with material than spiritual riches, his nephew is floundering in a London business and social culture completely at odds with his own instincts. While the larger-than-life figure of Mrs Anyia dominates, the heart of the play is in the relationship between the two sisters. It’s absolutely credible and their heart-searching in the spare room provides the most moving part of the drama. I’m less sure about the two men we meet – Pastor Emmanuel (Lace Akpojaro) and Dele Oaleye (Nick Oshikanlu).

Rhoda Ofori-Attah plays Grace, who wants to be a good wife, but not necessarily a traditional one, with gentle sincerity. Anniwaa Buachie has the right sort of career-woman brittleness as she attempts to over-ride everyone else’s feelings, not to mention beliefs or principles. And Ellen Thomas turns in a bravura performance as the matriarch who has probably always ruled her particular domestic roost but now finds that the loss of her husband has diminished her authority.

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