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24 September 2014

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The Estate
Ellen Thomas as Helen

The Estate

By Andrew Woodger, New Wolsey, Ipswich
The New Wolsey's latest co-production with the Tiata Fahodzi Company and the Soho Theatre looks at greed, class, snobbery and incest. It's set in Nigeria with an all-black cast and is a riot of black comedy, colour and darkness.

Oladipo Agboluaje's play, much like the recent New Wolsey productions of Arthur Miller's The Price and Chechov's Three Sisters, looks at strained family relations as the characters bicker over money.  It's a very complicated play in that you have to work out who's related to who pretty quickly or you lose the plot.

It centres on the death of patriach businessman Chief Adeyemi.  His second wife Helen (Ellen Thomas - from C4's Teachers) is trying to organise his wake and is keen to put on a show and keep ahead of the Joneses with colourful new funeral costumes and no scrimping. 

The Chief's sons from his first marriage return for the occasion and the reading of the will - eldest Yinka (a menacing Richard Pepple) and his younger brother Soji (a laid back Kwaku Ankomah).  Add to the pot Helen & the Chief's daughter Sola (the glamourous Yvonne Dodoo) and the long-term family servants and there are a lot of claims on the old man's cash and estate.

The Two Brothers
The brothers Yinka & Soji

As it emerges that the Chief wasn't quite as successful as everyone assumed.  The large pot of money turns out to be a ramekin of small change.  This allows the sinister but charismatic Pastor Pakimi (played by the show's director Femi Elufowoju, who had to step in at the last minute) to make a killing from the death of the Chief.

The tensions over dosh are increased by the burgeoning semi-incestous relationship between half-siblings Sola and Soji, and with the shock revelation that  Yinka has been sexually initiated by ... well let's just say rappers have a word for it!

It all threatens to turn into an episode of Jerry Springer - indeed the king of trash TV gets a namecheck.  The public humiliation destroys Yinka and Pepple pulls off a convincing transformation to a broken man who turns to the bottle.

Yvonne Dodoo as Sola
Yvonne Dodoo as Sola

The play is a riot of colourful African costumes which makes you wonder that if this is a wake, what would a wedding be like?  The director plays the Pastor like an over-the-top immoral American televangelist ("The church all they want is your money" as Morrissey would say) which isn't a criticism - he has to be over-the-top.

There's an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in the play generally.  The brother who's come back from New York is obsessed with keeping his hands on the family cash while  the brother who's attempted to become an academic in London is far more laid back about the inheritance.  There's also a quip from the pastor about Yinka being so American that he'll have to go to Iraq soon, yet no mention of Soji having to despite living in Britain.

The play also focuses on the class distinction between the servants and the family and the different ways they all deal with it.  Helen is frightening as she constantly berates house-girl Abasina(Ayo-Dele Ajana), her brother Samson (Wale Ojo), their ageing father Afolabi(Nick Oshikanlu) and Ekong the driver (Ojo again). 

Yinka and Sola
Yinka and Sola

There's not a weak performance, although I have to admit I didn't realise Wale Ojo was depicting two characters rather than one until later on.  I should have spotted that Abasina was calling one of them "Mr" Ekong - far too formal an address for one's own brother.  My only excuse is that the servants' African accents and patois were very thick.

That's not to say there were any weak performances - there was a great variety of human personality and emotion on display.

Noticeable as well was the fact that there were a lot of black faces in the audience - something the New Wolsey must have been pleased with following the lack of same at the recent performance of Three Sisters which also featured a black cast and was set in Trinidad.

This production of The Estate was premiered in Ipswich and travels to the London, Bracknell and Manchester.  Visit Tiata Fahodzi's website for full details using the links on the right hand side of this page>>>

last updated: 15/05/06
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Great that you enjoyed the play!, however had a few knee jerk reactions from reading your review and I felt compelled to share them with you.All in the spirit of progress! : ) By 'black faces' I assume we are talking about people? I've noted the constant use of this term 'black faces' in press and media these days, I do find this term almost impersonal de-humanizing if not cold. As to the audience mix, I'm sure that the 'New' theatre is programming inclusively with a view of reflecting the 'wide'base community. And that's the good news!, that the African community in Suffolk can at last make relevant choices. However the reference to the lack of African presence in the audience (Three Sisters) can give the impression that there is an expectation that African people naturally should be there because its about them.Not so. I'm glad that 'other' people are enjoying the diverse plays! It indicates that educating the masses in some aspects of cultural diversity can be done irrespctive of which gruop/subject the event is promoting.Remember also the African community have been taking care of their entertainment long before theatreland open their I'm not too surprised that maximum attendances has not yet been gained,audience development etc,..its still early days plus it all comes with trust. We ask is this a multicultral fad? or is this a long term commitment, I hope that it's the latter.

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