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Egusi Soup

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Janice Okoh's promising debut play for the Menagerie Theatre Company examines the cross-cultural tensions within a British-Nigerian family as they pack to return to Lagos for the one-year memorial service to the late head of the family, Mr Anyia.

As they pack, unpack and repack, old wounds are picked at and family secrets revealed. The arrival from New York of the family's successful barrister daughter, Anne (Anniwaa Buachie) throws a hand-grenade of emotion into the mix and it takes the titular Egusi Soup to make the family face up to their problems and recognise how they can move on.

The conflict between traditional Nigerian and Western cultures becomes almost a comedy character in its own right, offering the majority of the opportunities for humour, often played as farce and visual comedy. Ellen Thomas (EastEnders, Rev) as the still grieving Mrs Anyia plays the humour adroitly with very broad strokes, as does Lace Akpojaro as Mr Emmanuel, an evangelist pastor who offers traditional cures for all ills whether physical or emotional.

The comedy is well-played by all the cast and there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but it's not all a chuckle-fest. The insertion of serious scenes, although acted convincingly by all, results in an at times uncomfortable lurch from comedy to drama and back which jars and interrupts the otherwise fast-paced narrative.

Louie Whitemore's set manages to successfully squeeze three rooms into the small space, adding to the intensity of the piece. Her costumes emphasise the differences in the cultures - the Nigerian outfits in particular are stunning.

Menagerie are doing much to promote the best of the new generation of talented writers and there's no doubt that Janice Okoh has a feel for both comedy and drama. If she can continue to produce work like Egusi Soup but with a happier marriage of and transition between comedy and drama, she'll definitely be one to watch for the future.

- Carole Gordon


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